TEHRAN — In his almost three years as president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been harshly criticized in the West. But he is increasingly drawing fire from Shiite clerics here, who accuse him of using religion to distract attention from his government’s failure to deliver on promises of prosperity and political freedoms.
In a news conference last week, the president lashed out at those who were “insulting and mocking” him about a Shiite belief that he said was based on Islamic teachings.
The tensions surround Imam Mahdi, the 12th imam in a direct bloodline from the Prophet Muhammad, who the Shiite faithful believe will one day emerge from 1,000 years in hiding to save mankind and bring justice to the world. Tens of thousands of pilgrims go each year to the Jamkaran mosque near Qum, about 75 miles south of Tehran, where they believe that the imam will appear.