Ten Things You Didn't Know About Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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Compiled by the U.S. News Library Staff

1. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pronounced mah-MOOD ah-mah-dih-nee-ZHAD) was born Oct. 28, 1956, three years after the CIA-sponsored coup that installed the pro-Western leader Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Iran's leader. A Shiite Muslim, he and his wife, a professor, have two sons and a daughter.

2. When he was an infant, Ahmadinejad's family moved from the village of Aradan to Tehran. It was at this point that the family changed its name from Saborjhian, which translates to "thread painter" (the lowliest job in Iran's traditional carpet-weaving industry), to the more religious Ahmadinejad ("race of Muhammad" or "virtuous race").

3. Ahmadinejad is the fourth son of seven children. His father, Ahmad, ran a grocery store and then a barber shop in Aradan; upon their move to Tehran, his father became a blacksmith.

4. In 1975, he finished 130th among students across Iran who took university entrance exams that year and was admitted as a civil engineering student at Tehran's University of Science and Technology. He would later complete graduate work, earning master's and doctoral degrees in traffic and transportation engineering.

5. As a student, Ahmadinejad was politically active. Although religious activism was repressed under the shah, Ahmadinejad and his fellow protesters produced leaflets denouncing the shah using a printing press hidden in his family's home. Later, Ahmadinejad joined the ultraconservative faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity, the radical student group that grew out of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and staged the capture of the U.S. Embassy.

6. After serving in the war with Iraq, he joined Iran's elite Special Brigade of Revolutionary Guards, the militia force loyal to the spiritual leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He served in covert operations with the guards, probably in Kirkuk, and may also have been involved in the elimination of the Ayatollah's enemies; intelligence sources believed that he traveled to Austria in 1989 to assist in the assassination of Abdorrahman Qassemlou, a Kurdish dissident.

7. He was cofounder of the Islamic Society of Students and was an instructor with the Basij, the youth volunteer organization that enforces the Islamic Republic's strict religious codes. The Basij crisscrossed the city via motorcycles, searching for women out in public in violation of strict Muslim dress codes or in the company of males who were not close relatives.

8. After the war, he returned to academia as a lecturer and professor of engineering at his alma mater. Ahmadinejad's public service included serving as vice governor and governor of Maku and Khoy and acting as an adviser to the minister of culture and Islamic guidance. He was governor of the province of Ardabil from 1993 to 1997 and was the appointed mayor of Tehran in 2003.

9. As Tehran's mayor, he gained a reputation for personal piety and attentiveness to the city's lower and working classes. His two-year tenure was marked by religious conservatism and populism. He ordered the shutdown of fast-food restaurants, a crackdown on Internet cafés, and the cancellation of some secular entertainment events. He also turned cultural centers into religious halls. At one point, he donned a street sweeper's uniform to earn the respect of city workers and, shunning a city-provided limousine service, drove his own 1977 Peugeot.

10. Declaring that "we did not have a revolution in order to have democracy," Ahmadinejad won Iran's presidential election, edging out his rival, Islamic cleric and veteran politician Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in the runoff election in June 2005.

Sources:

Congressional Research Service

Newsweek

BBC News

London Observer

London Guardian

New York Times

Time

Global Security