Ahmadinejad, President and Blogger
By NAZILA FATHI
Published: December 11, 2007
TEHRAN, Dec. 10 — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of net surfers and instant messages. Yet, it turns out, the man is a blogger.
Equally surprising for a leader known for a kind of thundering public presence, his blog is not especially tough. He condemns Washington’s policies, but writes infrequently and more ponderously than in his confrontational speeches. Yet the reader comments posted alongside his own seem far less censored and harsher than one might expect.
“I think you are an evil leader,” one comment posted by an American reader said. “Freedom and tolerance are necessities in this day and age, and the fact that your country kills intellectuals, journalists, minorities is horrible and deeply disturbing.”
Another reader said his claim at Columbia University in September that there were no gays in Iran was absurd and called his domestic policies “brutish.” Still another wrote: “Shut up please, would you? I get headaches reading your nonsense stuff.”
Those comments run along with supportive ones, including postings that seem to refer to the new American intelligence estimate that Iran is not actively pursuing a nuclear weapon, something Mr. Ahmadinejad had repeatedly asserted.
“I knew you were telling the truth,” wrote a Canadian.
The exchanges are available at ahmadinejad.ir in Persian, Arabic, English and French. The president has been keeping the blog for more than a year and promises to spend 15 minutes a week updating it.
“He has a very keen understanding of publicity,” said Karim Arghandehpour, a political scientist and journalist in Tehran. “His Web log shows how he believes in modern publicity instruments and wants to use them.”
In his most recent piece, Mr. Ahmadinejad has provided a “Guideline for Islamic Governance” and writes about how an official should consider his duties as his “responsibilities before God” to help the people. “It is in this view that the smile of an orphan is more important than the contentment of greedy rulers,” he writes.
There is a political irony to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s blogging, since other Iranian bloggers, including reporters who worked for news Web sites, came under more pressure after his election. Hundreds of Web sites and blogs that were critical of the government have been blocked. Censorship has been so wide that the president’s blog was once blocked mistakenly along with Google for a day.
In fact, blogging has become common among former officials, especially reformist politicians who do not have a platform to express their ideas.
The first official who became a blogger was Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a vice president to former President Mohammad Khatami. Mr. Abtahi has remained an active blogger, updating his Web site every day for the past four years.
“I thought it was exciting when the president first launched his blog,” Mr. Abtahi said. “But it looks like it is just a formality. The computer is one of the many items on his desk which he does not use very often.”
However, the president’s Web log highlights the unusual techniques he uses, like the trucks that follow him on provincial trips for collecting people’s letters to him appealing for help, to promote his populist agenda.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to touch on most issues that concern him. He has written about freedom in Iran, referring to the protest of students against him a year ago at Amir Kabir University in Tehran as an example of its existence in Iran. “It was a joyous feeling to see a small group insult the elected president of people fearlessly amid a majority,” he wrote, without referring to the fate of the students, many of whom are in prison now.
In a letter to an American mother whose son was killed in Iraq, he calls the United States a “warmonger” but he says he respects all people of the world, including American people. In another article, he condemns the fingerprinting of passengers, like Iranians, by American customs officials and says it has caused hatred toward the American government.
Although comments posted on the Web log are screened, the ones on the English version are more hostile than the ones in Persian.
The ones in Persian express more sympathy and admiration for the president, but a little sarcasm has been allowed. Ibrahim Sadegh-al “thanked” the president for creating more jobs with economic policies that have led to a black market for goods. He said there were only two gas stations in his town before gasoline was rationed in late June.
“One of the two was always closed back then, but now we have 3,000 people selling petrol,” he wrote, referring to people selling their rations in the black market.
In his autobiography, Mr. Ahmadinejad writes about his childhood in a small town; the poverty of his family; excessive spending of the previous government, which put further pressure on the poor; his love for the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the revolution; and his memories of the Iran-Iraq war. He portrays himself as a pious, studious young man who also had to work as a teenager because of the poverty of his family.
The blog has been hacked several times. In August, a group called Yahoo Underground hacked his site and posted a sarcastic message saying, “We thank you on behalf of all Iranian hackers for defending the right of Iranian people against all the countries in the world.”
“We hope that you defend the irrefutable right of Iranian people to nuclear energy until your last breath,” it added.