President of Iran
Born Mahmoud Saborjhian, October 28, 1956, in Aradan, Iran; son of a blacksmith; married to a university lecturer; children: two sons, one daughter. Education: Iran University of Science and Technology, Ph.D., 1987.
Addresses: Home —Tehran, Iran.
Served in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, late 1980s; lecturer, Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST), c. 1989–93 and 1997–2003; appointed governor of Maku and later Khoy provinces; advisor for cultural affairs to the Minister of Culture and Higher Education, 1993; governor general of Ardabil province, 1993–97; elected mayor of Tehran, 2003; elected president of Iran, 2005.
Iranian voters chose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the country's president in June of 2005. A devout Shiite Muslim and veteran of the 1980–88 Iran-Iraq War, the former Tehran mayor had gained a reputation as a public servant known for his adherence to the stricter tenets of Islam, and he was even rumored to have participated in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during his younger days. During his first year as president, Ahmadinejad's plans to expand Iran's nuclear program has alarmed the Western powers. Newsweek magazine described him as "less a leader than a symbol, combining ferocious pride, militant piety, an expansive view of Iran and a narrow vision of the world that are all products of the Islamic revolution."
The son of a blacksmith, Ahmadinejad was born in 1956 in Aradan, a village on the ancient Silk Route that for centuries had carried traders back and forth from Asia to the Mediterranean world. He was one of seven children in a poor family, and when they relocated to Tehran, Iran's capital, during his infancy, they changed their name from Saborjhian, which meant "thread painter." This was one of the lowliest jobs in Iran's traditional carpet-weaving industry, but the new family moniker, Ahmadinejad, denoted "race of Muhammad" or "virtuous race."
Ahmadinejad grew up in an Iran ruled over by an autocratic, pro-Western leader, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The Shah, as he was known, had been installed after a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored coup in 1953 that came in response to the previous government's nationalization of its oil industry, which effectively shut out U.S. and British companies. Pahlavi modernized Iran, but his schemes alienated the conservative Islamic clerics in the country, and there was growing unrest by the time Ahmadinejad reached college age.
After scoring high on a national merit exam, Ahmadinejad entered Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST) in 1976, from which he would earn a doctorate in traffic and transportation engineering and planning eleven years later. A devout Muslim from an early age, he joined other university students who were organizing in opposition to the Shah's regime, and for a time headed the Office for Strengthening Unity, a student organization. It is thought he went abroad to Lebanon in the late 1970s, as a bloody civil war raged there, and was active in Shiite groups battling for control of the country. Back in Iran, he kept a secret printing press in his family's home which he and his fellow activists used to produce leaflets denouncing the Shah. In early 1979, the Shah fled Iran, and Islamic hardliners seized control of the country in what became known as the Islamic Revolution. Later that year, a group of students stormed the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for the next 14 months.
Ahmadinejad joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in 1986, the militia force loyal to Iran's spiritual leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He served in covert operations with the organization, probably in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and may have also been involved in elimination of enemies of the Ayatollah. Intelligence sources believed he traveled to Austria in 1989 and aided in the assassination of a Kurdish dissident in Vienna. After a stint as a professor of civil engineering at his alma mater, IUST, he held political appointments in the provinces of Maku and Khoy, and back in Tehran was a member of the Basij religious militia, a notorious band of young, bearded men who crisscrossed the city on motorcycles searching for women out in public who were in violation of the regime's strict dress code, or in the company of a male who was not a close relative. Arrests and even beatings of such women were commonplace.
Ahmadinejad was appointed to serve as governor of Ardabil province in 1993, but his political career stalled briefly when Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997. Khatami was a reformer, but his efforts were thwarted by a lack of political support in Iran's parliament along with an assertive campaign on the part of the mullahs, or Muslim clerics, to maintain control. In the interim, Ahmadinejad returned to teaching at the university level once again, which is also the career of his wife, with whom he has two sons and a daughter. He became the surprise frontrunner in Tehran's mayoral race in May of 2003. Ahmadinejad, noted Jason Burke, a writer for London's Observer , "was honest, poor, hardworking and devout and, as such, different from virtually every other Iranian politician. His rhetoric appealed to all those millions of people who had gained little under six years of a 'reforming' administration."
During his two years as mayor, Ahmadinejad implemented his conservative agenda by ordering that some cultural centers be turned into prayer centers, cracking down on the newly proliferating Internet cafes, and cancelling some secular entertainment events. Among the city's working classes, he was respected for bringing his own lunch to work every day and driving the same 1977 Peugeot he had owned for years. With a public profile boosted by his municipal leadership, Ahmadinejad decided to run for president in the spring of 2005, and had little trouble besting Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a reform-minded mullah and ex-president. Ahmadinejad's campaign stressed his humble background, work ethic, and piety, and his wartime service appealed to the country's aging veterans of the Iran-Iraq conflict of his own generation.
Shortly after Ahmadinejad's victory at the polls, some of the former American hostages, who were released in January of 1981, claimed that Ahmadinejad had been one of their captors 26 years earlier. The president-elect denied the allegations, but Western intelligence sources conceded that he was indeed involved in the international diplomatic incident. Perhaps more worrisome, however, is Ahmadinejad's support for Iran's nuclear program, which Iran claims is vital to its domestic energy needs. Others worry that its uranium-enrichment program is being done with the goal of producing a viable nuclear weapon. "We've been extremely cooperative," Ahmadinejad noted in an interview with Time 's Adam Zagorin about compliance with international nuclear protocols. "Monitoring cameras are everywhere in our facilities. At the same time, we see that some powers continue to expand their armaments. We see that the occupiers of Jerusalem have been getting nuclear warheads. But there is absolutely no report about controls in countries where nuclear arms already exist. So we think that this whole attitude toward Iran is actually a political posture."
Guardian (London, England), July 2, 2005, p. 15; April 25, 2006, p. 14.
Newsweek , February 13, 2006, p. 26.
New York Times , June 26, 2005; July 2, 2005.
Observer (London, England), January 15, 2006, p. 39.
Time , September 26, 2005, p. 8.