Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultraconservative former President of Iran, has traditionally been dismissive of domestic media, so the three interviews he gave to reformist newspapers in March came as a surprise.
Explaining his aversion to Iran’s press, Ahmadinejad told the pro-reform daily Arman March 19 “you make every discussion superficial, with no link to the people's demands, so this leaves me with no motivation to take part in an interview.”
Ahmadinejad, who left office in 2013, has become an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic’s ruling establishment, and his remarks, as well as those of reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, have been mostly censored by Iran’s tightly controlled state media.
Denied any other platform, Ahmadinejad took to social media to harshly attack Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, former Judiciary Chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani and his brother Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, as well as President Hassan Rouhani.
Criticizing Khamenei is a taboo for the media. They cannot publish any such criticism, even from someone as high-profile as Ahmadinejad. The tolerance for criticism of the Judiciary Chief is also very limited. But they can publish all the criticism of the Rouhani administration they like. Khamenei and his hardliner friends may even be pleased to read such criticism, as they have come up against Rouhani on several issues of foreign and domestic policy recently.
This could explain the publication of Ahmadinejad's harsh criticism of the Rouhani administration in his recent interviews with Etemad, Sharq, and Arman newspapers, in which he questioned the president’s accountability and use of his power.
Nevertheless, both Ahmadinejad and the state censors still seem to be exercising caution. Arman noted that during the interview, Ahmadinejad's office made a video recording, possibly to make sure that his comments would not be distorted by reporters.
Meanwhile, like others who have published Ahmadinejad’s criticisms, Arman noted that there was a gap of several weeks between the time of the interview and the date of its publication. The state censorship may have been weighing Ahmadinejad's comments for a while before allowing their publication.
In the interview, Ahmadinejad questioned the Iranian Parliament's efficiency during the lifetime of the Islamic Republic.
"How many essential economic bills have been ratified by the parliament during its past 10 sessions?" he asked, saying that parliament has “unlimited authority and no accountability.”
He also demanded more transparency in the voting process, and that the public be allowed to see MP voting records.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad insisted that every Iranian should receive a monthly cash subsidy of 9000,000 rials, twenty times more than the current subsidy paid to most Iranians. The amount people get now has been eroded because of devaluation. They receive just $3.5 in open market exchange rate, while Ahmadinejad is proposing $70. That is more than half of the minimum monthly wage in Iran.
He also stressed that resources should be equally divided among all Iranians rather than excluding parts of the population when it comes to benefits.
"Can the government spend national resources in any way it wishes? Who has given this permission to the government to distribute resources in a discriminatory way?" Ahmadinejad asked.
Ahmadinejad challenged Rouhani to a public debate over the way the country's resources are being used.
He claimed that he wrote a letter to Khamenei in 2009 asking him privately to pardon all those who had been arrested following the disputed presidential election in that year.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad insisted that he has his own ways of increasing the price of oil, and he is prepared to do that again with "learned management and courageous diplomacy."
It is not clear how he plans to increase oil prices. Iran has little control over market, which is swayed mainly by large producers, such as Saudi Arabia, the United States and Russia.
During his presidency, some of Ahmadinejad's comments such as the one about "wiping Israel off the map" perhaps led to occasional hikes in the price of oil, but at the same time escalated the chance of regional conflicts and isolated Iran.