The power struggle between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is getting more intense—and a lot weirder. Several people close to Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being magicians and summoning genies, reports the Guardian. Ahmadinejad has faced harsh criticism from religious conservatives since he returned to work after going AWOL for 11 days because of a disagreement with Khamenei.
The feud appears to stem from reactions to unrest in the Arab world, notes the Washington Post. Khamenei and other religious leaders favor retrenchment, while Ahmadinejad and his circle are believed to favor outreach. Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chosen successor, has made efforts to open lines of communication with Washington in recent months, sources say. Tensions have further increased with the release of a documentary that claims that Hidden Imam Mahdi, Shia Islam's savior, is about to return. Senior clerics allege that a "perverted team" among Ahmadinejad's inner circle is responsible for the film.