Reporting from Tehran — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demoted a controversial aide Saturday, Iranian news agencies reported, amid rising calls for political change throughout the Middle East.
Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, was not only his top advisor, but also an in-law and comrade during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. He will retain his lesser posts.
Mashaei's unorthodox views about religion, including the role of the clergy and the preeminence of ancient Iranian cultural values over Islam, earned him the mistrust of hard-liners in the Iranian establishment but also won Ahmadinejad no friends among a seething opposition movement opposed to the president and his agenda.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields the ultimate power in Iran, intervened in 2009 to prevent Mashaei from serving as first vice president, a role that would have put him next in line as head of the government.
Hamid Baqai, another Ahmadinejad confidant, will take over as chief of staff, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
Mostaghim is a special correspondent.