Ever since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first ran for President of Iran, four years ago, he has shown a canny understanding of communications. He has a blog, called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Personal Memos, in which he expounds on God, philosophy, and his childhood, and answers e-mails from readers. The signature videos for his 2005 Presidential campaign were two thirty-minute productions that expertly portrayed him as a man of the people. In one scene, Ahmadinejad is in line for lunch at a self-service canteen; in another, he walks among the poor. The videos were aired on television repeatedly. The campaign tagline was “It’s doable—and we can do it.”
The videos were conceived and produced by Javad Shamaqdari, a burly, bearded man who is the President’s “art adviser.” A month ago, that meant demanding an apology from Hollywood for “thirty years of insults and accusations against Iran.” Shamaqdari cited the 2006 film “300,” about the battle between the Spartans and the evil, decadent Persians, and last year’s “The Wrestler,” in which Mickey Rourke grapples with an old nemesis called the Ayatollah, who tries to choke Rourke’s character with an Iranian flag. On the campaign, though, Shamaqdari’s role was like that of an American communications director.
Shamaqdari and Ahmadinejad met when they were engineering students in Tehran, in the late seventies. During the Iran-Iraq War, Shamaqdari produced documentaries about life on the front. He went on to make feature films, including “Sandstorm,” about the failed 1980 U.S. operation to rescue the hostages. Shamaqdari said that when Ahmadinejad became mayor of Tehran, in 2003, he refused his municipal salary, keeping only what he was due in his position as a university teacher. “I felt that Iran needed a person like that at the top,” Shamaqdari said. “So when I heard of his candidacy I proposed to help him.”
Shamaqdari showed me outtakes from his films—scenes that Ahmadinejad had found “too intimate.” They portrayed Ahmadinejad tenderly kissing his aged father on the cheeks and reciting Persian poetry to him. “What I wanted to show was his honesty and his simplicity,” Shamaqdari said. “I felt sure the Iranian people would vote for him if they saw this.”
Shamaqdari was right. Iran’s conservative clerical establishment, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, had thwarted the efforts of President Mohammad Khatami, who had run as a reformist, to open up Iran. The clerics rallied around Ahmadinejad’s dark-horse candidacy, and in June, 2005, Ahmadinejad won, with sixty-two per cent of the vote.
Iran’s next Presidential election is scheduled to take place in June.