Inane extravaganza leads to political brawl within the Iranian regime

Disputes within the Iranian regime have been growing in recent days over a state-run “conference of Iranians from abroad” which has been organized in Tehran. One of the official goals of the August 2 conference was to “attract investments” from the Iranian diasporas. However, the event only brought to light further tensions and divisions within the regime and even the factions close to the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad, who is also the chairman of the “Supreme Council for Iranians Abroad” which organized the event, recently picked his office secretary, Rahim Mashai, as his deputy at the council. According to reports, Mashai has been given extensive resources and powers to advance his proposed plans.

The regime claims that “building trust and lessening the gap between Iranians living abroad and the establishment” was one of the goals of the conference. But the participants were mainly the regime’s elements and lobbyists from abroad. So, not only did it fail to “lessen gaps” between the dictatorial regime and Iranian exiles who have been opposing it for the past 30 years, it actually served to extend gaps into the establishment itself.

There have been objections within the regime about the price tag of the conference. More than $3 million has been spent alone on advertisement. Each guest can bring up to four others with all expenses fully paid by the regime, including a tour of 8 provinces.

Most notable among the critics of the conference has been Kayhan daily, which is the mouthpiece of the mullahs’ Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The paper complained in an August 3 article about the “lavish costs and the tens of millions of dollars spent” for the event. Others have said the regime’s affiliates who have been invited to the conference are not in a position to make any kind of considerable investments in Iran, and so in the end the conference was fruitless.

Interestingly, some of the harshest disparagement has originated from Ahmadinejad’s own camp and even some of his loyal followers. At the opening ceremony of the gathering, Ali Razini, a judiciary official, walked out of the hall in protest to the appearance of a music group that included female performers.

The spokesman of the Majlis [Parliament] minority faction, which is close to Ahmadinejad, said that many of the participants are not even investors. Dariush Qanbari told the state-run ILNA on August 3 that, “Ahmadinejad must say what message this gathering has at a time that his mistaken policies have driven out investors to instead take up residence abroad making the domestic environment unfavorable for investment.”

He also complained that, “Recently, the Supreme Council of Iranians Abroad has become very active, effectively turning into a parallel foreign ministry.”

Another member of Ahmadinejad’s faction in Parliament, Jalal Yahyazadeh, said, “The guests did not have a high status and did not deserve this kind of a red carpet welcome.”

But, perhaps most significantly, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of Kayhan daily, which is considered Khamenei’s mouthpiece, lambasted the event and criticized security and intelligence agencies for at least failing to prevent the entry of the “thugs and hooligans who lick the bowl of the US, Israel and Britain.”

Kayhan pointed to Houshang Amir Ahmadi, a well-known regime lobbyist in Washington, as “the head of Iranians invited from the US to participate in this conference.” The Ahmadinejad government tried to downplay Amir Ahmadi’s presence, claiming instead that he is on a personal vacation and intends to stay at his villa in the northern part of the country.

On Monday, Ramin Mihmanparast, the spokesman for the regime’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters that he has no clue about who has been invited, adding, “Nevertheless, the essence of this conference of Iranians abroad is very beneficial.”

According to reports, many of the guests avoided going to the first day of the event, instead making family visits and tracking down confiscated property.

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