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"God Damn the Vice President!" Blasts Khamenei’s Errand Boy

November 19, 2017
Reza HaghighatNejad
6 min read
First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri blamed Ahmadinejad’s housing project for quake casualties
First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri blamed Ahmadinejad’s housing project for quake casualties
Khamenei’s crony Vahid Haghanian attacked First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri for blaming Ahmadinejad’s housing project for quake casualties
Khamenei’s crony Vahid Haghanian attacked First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri for blaming Ahmadinejad’s housing project for quake casualties

One of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s key officials has lashed out at Iran’s vice president Eshagh Jahangiri for “politicizing” the recent deadly earthquake, which killed more than 500 people and injured thousands. 

Vahid Haghanian, a senior member of Ayatollah Khamenei’s office and a former military commander, condemned Jahangiri after he said that the shoddy quality of residential buildings constructed under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was to blame for many of the casualties. During a trip to assess earthquake relief efforts in Kermanshah, Haghanian told a group of people, "God damn Vice President Jahangiri!" Apparently, he did not know his comments were being recorded on a cell phone camera.

After the video went viral, Haghanian apologized. He said he had not meant to insult the vice president, and that the gathering was a private matter, adding that he had worked with him for 25 years. However, he did defend the housing project, and he stood by his comments that the earthquake should not be politicized.

The Mehr Housing Project was launched by the Ahmadinejad administration in 2007. Government officials plugged it as a key initiative to house low-income families, and ran a huge publicity campaign rolling out their pledge to build around two million housing units over a five-year period.  But from the outset, the project was beset by every conceivable problem, from corruption and rising housing prices to substandard buildings and dwellings being built without access to water, power, gas or sewer lines. After he assumed the presidency in 2013, Hassan Rouhani announced that the project would be replaced by a program of affordable loans by 2017.

In fact it was President Rouhani, and not Vice President Jahangiri, who initially started criticizing the Mehr Housing Project and the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — without specifically naming anyone — soon after the devastation of the earthquake began to unfold. Haghanian knew this, so his criticisms of Jahangiri were indirect attacks on Rouhani as well.

The fact that so many state-built homes collapsed so easily in the November 12 earthquake in western Iran demonstrated how rife corruption was in the country at the time they were built, Rouhani said on Wednesday, November 15. “That a house built by ordinary people in the Sarpol-e Zahab region [the town worst hit by the quake] has remained standing while in front of it a government-built building has collapsed is a sign of corruption,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting. He and other officials have promised that those responsible for shortcomings in government-constructed buildings in Iran’s earthquake zone will be punished.

The Truth Worries People

In response to Rouhani, Haghanian, who had traveled to the quake-stricken area as Khamenei’s representative, said that criticism of housing projects had managed to profoundly worry 10 to 12 million Iranians who live in Mehr Housing residential units. He did not, however, say anything about the reliability or safety of the buildings.

Vahid Haghanian has been variously referred to as the steward, the secretary, the executive deputy and the special assistant at the Supreme Leader’s office. He usually accompanies Ayatollah Khamenei on all his social engagements, including important official occasions such as the swearing in of the president. For many years, Haghanian has attended most major events as the Supreme Leader’s representative. He also accompanies the Supreme Leader in his less official and non-political pursuits, such as going for a walk in nature or climbing a mountain. After the disputed 2009 presidential election, it was Haghanian who announced to reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s representative that the election was over, Ahmadinejad had won and Mousavi should forget about any hopes for the presidency. He has also visited the scenes of disasters including the Plasco Building fire and the explosion at Zemestan Yurt coal mine in northeastern Iran. But during the 2017 presidential election, it was Haghanian who also represented Rouhani at the Interior Ministry’s Elections Headquarters. In playing so many roles, he has managed to appear as the person in the Supreme Leader’s office who Khamenei most trusts. 

His visit to the quake disaster area on November 18, his conversation with people from the area, during which he was seen to listen and take notes, his explanations of how the crisis was being managed, and his public and sharp criticism of Rouhani’s first vice president will no doubt add to his political weight — an outcome of which he is naturally aware.


The Jilted Suitor

But his attack on Eshagh Jahangiri is also significant from another angle. Over the last year, Jahangiri has tried hard to secure the trust of Ayatollah Khamenei. In March 2017, he said he intended to become the chief intermediary between the reformists and the Supreme Leader, a mantle previously held by the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In fact, over the last four years, not only has Jahangiri tried to repair relations between the reformists and Ayatollah Khamenei, but he has tried to present himself as the front man in this endeavor. And since 2015, Jahangiri has been the “commander” of the so-called “Resistance Economy Base,” responsible for carrying out the economic programs that Khamenei has championed, insisting that they will prevent Iran from being reliant on the international economy.

However, over the last few weeks, Jahangiri's political ambitions have been overshadowed by the fact that the Revolutionary Guards arrested his brother for financial crimes. And now being cursed by Khamenei’s confidante could make his situation worse.

And yet Haghanian’s criticism should not come as a complete surprise. During the last four years, Ayatollah Khamenei has been disgruntled about the winding down of the Mehr Housing Project, and he has shown his disapproval of the policies of Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi, the man responsible for the process. “There might be opposition to the Mehr Housing Project or how credit is provided by the banks,” he told the Rouhani’s cabinet in 2014. “But we must consider that right now there are millions of people who are waiting for Mehr Housing to complete its work.” But Abbas Akhoundi stood his ground, and in early 2015, he described the project as “foolish.” In autumn of the same year, he said it was “destructive.” More recently, in spring 2016, he dismissed the project as “populist,” calling it a “disaster” just a few months later. 

Then, in February 2017, when the parliament intended to impeach him, one of the charges against him related to the dismantlement of the Mehr Housing project. “Discontinuing Mehr Housing Scheme and introducing a new scheme, the Community Housing Scheme, has ruined the housing market,” read the impeachment draft document. But, again, Akhoundi stood his ground and kept his job, leading to further displeasure from the Supreme Leader, who said in spring 2017, “in recent years we have gone backward in housing.”

The recent comments from Vahid Haghanian clearly demonstrate that both the Supreme Leader and individuals close to him continue to find value in the Mehr Housing Project — despite evidence to the contrary. Intolerant to criticism about it, they do whatever they can to defend it. This perhaps says more about the political tensions between the Supreme Leader, Iran’s religious authorities and the Rouhani administration than anything else. The housing project, and anything the Supreme Leader has put his support behind, has political leverage. Even if the Rouhani administration knows it is correct in its admonishment of the project, it is likely to back down in a bid to avoid conflict. This could mean the Mehr project will not be abandoned after all, a situation that could be dangerous given the shoddy construction of the homes already developed under its auspices. Even with experts linking the high death toll and numerous injuries to this reality, and the facts of the deadly earthquake on their side, the Rouhani administration may be unwilling to let tensions mount at the risk of greater battles unfolding. 



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