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Kelly Jane Torrance Middle East World

Who gave Mahmoud Ahmedinejad the moral highground?

He tweets about millionaire American athletes while Tehran burns.

Donald Trump made headlines last week when he extended an invitation to the leaders of Iran to meet him without “preconditions.” That country’s rulers have so far very conspicuously declined to take the president up on his offer, but one Iranian political figure has reached out — over Trump’s favourite medium.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013, addressed President Trump yesterday on Twitter. It wasn’t to send a message about the sanctions on Iran that Trump’s administration began reimposing today. No, Ahmadinejad was worked up about something else: Trump’s weekend tweet about basketball players.

“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Trump tweeted on Friday night, suggesting that Michael Jordan is a smarter basketball player than the soon-to-be Los Angeles Lakers star.

By Sunday — the delay perhaps owing to the fact that Twitter is banned in Iran, though its leaders regularly speak through the service — Ahmadinejad had a response. “Mr. @realDonaldTrump In my opinion everyone especially a President should love all,and not differentiate between them. I love @KingJames #MichaelJordan @RaufMahmoud and all athletes, and wish them all the best.”

It looks like Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t the only Middle East leader good at trolling. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is the former Denver Nuggets player who refused to stand for the national anthem — way back in the 1990s—instead silently reciting Islamic prayer.

That’s not the reason Ahmadinejad’s tweet is so humorous, of course. When he was in power, the former president regularly made anti-Semitic remarks and constantly called the Holocaust into question, claiming the murder of Jews during the Second World War was a “lie and a mythical claim.” It’s more than the height of hypocrisy for him to chastise the American president and say he “should love all,and not differentiate.”

Sure, he did tweet about Trump last year, “In humanity borders do not exist; they only exist on paper. Everyone is connected to each other . #Mexico#wall#trump.” But he’s made it clear he wants no connection to near-neighbour Israel. It’s hard to choose just one anti-Israel remark he’s made, but let’s go with his 2012 statement that “any freedom lover and justice seeker in the world must do its best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the path for the establishment of justice and freedom in the world.” Which makes his August 4 tweet laughable: “The Iranian Nation, has always respected all Nations,& their basic rights & will continue to do so. The Iranian Nation has always called for friendship & cooperation with all,as well as peace, freedom, respect, justice, welfare & progress for all Nations.” Perhaps by “Iranian Nation” he means the Iranian people; unlike their leaders, Iranians tend to be friends of the West.

Ahmadinejad put a new cover photo on his Twitter account last week (as he noted with the hashtag #NewCoverPhoto); it shows him in the middle of what he probably assumes is an adoring crowd. One of the most corrupt politicians of recent Iranian memory has been wanting to get back into the game. He tried to make another go at the presidency in last year’s election, but the supreme leader’s Guardian Council refused to allow him to run. (Remember who calls the shots the next time a politician or pundit describes Iran as a “democracy.”)

Since unrest began in Iran in December, Ahmadinejad has been trying to take advantage of the situation for his own ends. The protests began over economic issues but within hours became political. Demonstrators have been shouting “Death to the dictator!” and including President Hassan Rouhani in their chants along with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad is not on their side. He has no interest in bringing down the theocracy that gave him the power to steal from his own people. Iran is in terrible shape right now; there are people who haven’t been able to afford to eat meat for months. Iranians know another Ahmadinejad term wouldn’t bring them prosperity — especially those Iranians who are able to get around the country’s Twitter ban. On July 28, Ahmadinejad tweeted a photo of himself with late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez with the caption “Happy Birthday! We Miss you everyday.” Venezuela, led to ruin by the crazy Chavez, is one of the few modern countries in worse shape than Iran right now. An even more dire economic crisis is not what Iranians are clamouring for on the streets. They want change — but even supposed critics of the current regime like Ahmadinejad have no interest in helping them obtain it. He tweets about millionaire American athletes while Tehran burns.

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