Ahmadinejad's Comeback?

Iran's Unpopular Populist Returns to Politics

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, August 2010. Morteza Nikoubatzl / Reuters

It was a relief to the international community when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the confrontational leader of Iran, retired in 2013 after a turbulent eight-year term as Iranian president and was replaced by Hassan Rouhani. The former leader was well known for his denial of the Holocaust and for his earnest suggestions to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in August 2006 that Iran and Germany align against, “the winners of the Second World War.” Close observers will also be familiar with his 2005 gambit to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was in charge of conducting nuclear inspections in Iran, with an offer to fund the body’s entire annual budget. Ahmadinejad reasoned that if the West could “buy” the UN agency by funding it, so could Iran.

Ahmadinejad’s pronouncements and policies won him few friends abroad. And he did no better at home, where his brash initiatives resulted in economic and political chaos. The nuclear program that he so defiantly pushed forward led to the most punishing international sanctions imposed on a country in modern times. The sanctions wrecked an economy that was already reeling from years of mismanagement under his administration. His reelection in the summer of 2009 led to widespread and prolonged unrest, since many Iranians believed that he could have only won through a rigged vote. One top Revolutionary Guard commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, assigned with the task of putting down the revolt, described it on Iranian state television in 2013 as the most serious threat to the Islamic Republic since the Iran–Iraq war in the 1980s, a war Iran nearly lost to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. When Ahmadinejad left office, the inflation rate was 46 percent, the growth rate stood at minus six percent, and the value of the national currency had dropped by almost 300 percent.

And yet, Ahmadinejad is now threatening to return to politics, a prospect that does not excite his old hardline friends and supporters.

A photo of a recent campaign rally circulating on the Internet.

Over the

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