Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, Jan 11th, 2017

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Donald Trump: Are there any similarities?

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States (US) has surprised not only the Americans, but also the whole world. A lot of questions were asked about the reasons that led to this tragic victory, which is not the focus of this commentary. My focus is to compare the recent victory of Donald Trump and the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the 6th president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. There are striking similarities in the narrative and the slogan of discourse during both their election campaigns.

Donald Trump won by overwhelming majority in the electoral college as he successfully managed to market his political program to the US’s countryside, even though he still lost the popular vote.  This was the same reason behind the election victories of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 and in 2009 in Iran. The two political characters, Ahmadinejad and Trump, were targeting rural citizens, individuals who are living in the countryside and are not engaged directly with establishment politics. They are more concerned about the economy and about improving their lifestyle. Interestingly, most of those who voted for Ahmadinejad and those who voted for Trump are 45 years old and above. This suggests a gap in the society as the majority of the young generation did not vote for either.

The other similarity between these two presidents is the criticism they have engaged in against previous internal and external political establishments of their countries. Ahmadinejad had attacked many times the representatives of that political establishment of Iran such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.  He also accused some of those who were part of the political system of Rafsanjani’s party as being corrupted. The same discourse was heard from Trump when he criticized what he called ‘politics in Washington’ and pledged to ‘drain the swamp.’ He continually put Barak Obama’s political actions, not to mention his origin of birth, under question. He reached out to his supporters and fans by saying that if he won, there will be a different political dynamic in Washington and he would ‘make America great again.’

The third similarity between the two presidents was obvious in their attitude of provoking others by aggressive statements, attacking neighboring countries and humiliating minorities. For example, in the case of Ahmadinejad, in addition to his numerous statements criticizing the political party in Iran and calling it ‘a corrupted political illegitimacy’, he was also attacking the West and the US particularly by his famous statement, “we do not need the West.” The same discourse was noticed in Trump’s political behavior, in his campaign, when he attacked Obama’s party and their ‘liberal’ political practices. In addition, Trump also attacked others, including Arabs and Europe. He offered many unfriendly and hostile statements like, ‘Belgium is a small European village’, ‘we do not need the Gulf States or their oil’, ‘the Gulf needs to pay US to protect them, and US does not need the Arabs, Arabs need our support.”

Political behavior and discourse do not seem different in either case regardless of the political environment or the nature of the State. The political campaign’s slogans cannot go much further than being just said. For example, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad despite all that he promised, could not manage to fundamentally change the politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran the way he presented this to his nation, neither internally nor externally. Trump is about to take office with a high negative rating, especially outside rural areas. But if the swamp does get drained in American politics, who will the new swamp rats be? Will Trump face the same problem as Ahmadinajad? The whole world is teetering on the edge to follow the new leader’s twitter politics.

About the Author

- Dr. Mahjoob Zweiri is Associate Professor in Contemporary History of the Middle East at Qatar University and a Graduate Faculty member in the Gulf Studies Program. He holds a PhD in Modern History from Tehran University (2002).