Over the last seven months, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's base of support appears to have steadily shrunk: Countless conservative politicians and clerics, such as former Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, have even parted ways with the Iranian president and joined the expanding group of his foes. But though his list of detractors is getting longer, a number of men continue to stand behind the president, ensuring his hold on power.
Even some symbolic leaders of the opposition green movement, such as former President Mohammad Khatami, declared in recent days that they recognize Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, even if they remain convinced that his re-election on June 12 was rigged.
All the president's men -- and they are all men, with the exception of the female health minister, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi -- fall into two categories. Ahmadinejad's chosen advisors and cabinet members are either his relatives or men close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his powerful supporter. No matter the amount of criticism or condemnation heaped on the men in this inner circle, the president has remained as loyal to his appointees as they are to him.
The most glaring example is Ahmadinejad's appointment two weeks ago of Judge Saeed Mortazavi as the head of Iran's Task Force Against Smuggling. Mortazavi was just named in a report issued by the Iranian parliament as the man largely responsible for atrocities committed in July, following Iran's contested presidential election, by state security forces at the Kahrizak detention facility. According to the report, some demonstrators in the opposition movement imprisoned in Kahrizak were killed, and others tortured, due to mismanagement and abuse. The parliamentary committee said the dissidents were taken to the detention facility based on orders from Mortazavi, who at the time was Tehran's chief prosecutor. After the deaths were reported in July, Khamenei ordered the facility closed.
Despite Mortazavi's tainted reputation -- he is also notorious for shutting down hundreds of reformist newspapers and imprisoning their journalists in the late 1990s when he was a judge -- Ahmadinejad has ignored widespread criticism of his appointment as the anti-smuggling chief.
The closest person to Ahmadinejad is his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, who is also the president's brother-in-law. After Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in the June 12 election, he initially tapped Mashaie to be his vice president. However, Mashaie's statement in 2008 that Iranians are "friends of all people in the world -- even Israelis" angered conservatives, who pressured Ahmadinejad to rescind the appointment. Ahmadinejad refused to back down until Khamenei instructed him to remove Mashaie. Ahmadinejad's subsequent decision to appoint Mashaie as his chief of staff was striking because it defied even Khamenei.