Vilified in the West for his barbs against America and Israel, his defiance on Iran’s nuclear work, and questioning of the Holocaust, the blacksmith’s son has long relied on his charismatic appeal to the poor and devout, as well as his links to the elite Revolutionary Guard and Basij religious militia.
Many Iranians underestimated the little-known Ahmadinejad before he defeated political heavyweight Hashemi Rafsanjani for the presidency in 2005 and even later as he accumulated power.
His re-election in 2009, in a vote his reformist opponents said was rigged, ignited an eight-month firestorm of street protests – a failed foretaste of last year’s Arab uprisings.
Ahmadinejad prevailed thanks to unwavering support from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who abandoned his role as lofty arbitrator to fight for the president in a struggle that exposed gaping divisions in the religious and political elite.
But Ahmadinejad seemed only hungrier for power and challenged the authority of Khamenei himself, sacking an intelligence minister last year and then sulking at home for 10 days after the Supreme Leader reinstated the man.