Loathed in the West and weakened at home, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrapped up his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly on a theological note Wednesday, hailing the imminent arrival of an “Ultimate Savior.”
“God Almighty has promised us a man of kindness,” the Iranian leader told world leaders and senior officials gathered in New York, at what was expected to be his last speech to the assembly as president of Iran.
Ahmadinejad said the savior is “a man who loves people and loves absolute justice, a man who is a perfect human being and is named Imam al-Mahdi, a man who will come in the company of Jesus Christ and the righteous.”
As a Shiite Muslim, Ahmadinejad reveres Islam’s twelfth imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who disappeared from the earth in the 10th century and is said to be due to return, accompanied by Jesus, to save mankind.
The date of his return is not known, but Ahmadinejad indicated that he felt the arrival would come quickly, telling delegates: “Now we can sense the sweet scent and the soulful breeze of the spring, a spring that has just begun.”
Some critics of Iran’s Islamic regime have expressed concern that messianic Shiite beliefs might drive leaders like Ahmadinejad to seek an apocalyptic confrontation with those he sees as foes of God’s will on Earth.
But at the United Nations he insisted the Mahdi’s return would bless all, not just “a specific race, ethnicity, nation or a region, a spring that will soon reach all the territories in Asia, Europe, Africa and the U.S.”
“The arrival of the Ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ and the Righteous will bring about an eternally bright future for mankind, not by force or waging wars but through thought-awakening and developing kindness in everyone.
“Their arrival will breathe a new life in the cold and frozen body of the world. He will bless humanity with a spring that puts an end to our winter of ignorance, poverty and war with the tidings of a season of blooming.
“Let us join hands and clear the way for his eventual arrival with empathy and cooperation, in harmony and unity. Let us march on this path to salvation for the thirsty souls of humanity to taste immortal joy and grace.
“Long live this spring. Long live this spring. Again and again long live this spring,” he declared, to a smattering of applause from some dignitaries.
The 56-year-old Ahmadinejad - who is struggling through his last year in office after nearly losing his job - has long relished any opportunity to promote his controversial views and to bat back criticism of them.
“Now he’s been sidelined at home he will really want to ham it up abroad,” said Ali Ansari of Scotland’s St Andrew’s University, referring to Ahmadinejad’s address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
Unfazed by walkouts and demonstrations on previous visits to New York, Ahmadinejad has alleged the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks, lambasted Western leaders for being played by “deceitful Zionists”, and denied homosexuality exists in Iran.
In contrast to the rhetoric, he has happily engaged with U.S. media, appearing on television and in newspaper interviews.
“There’s a lot of ego that drives the blacksmith’s son from Iran to take on the might of American television,” said Iranian-American author Hooman Majd, who has met him several times.
Since his election victory in 2005, the diminutive president has gone from obscurity to the most visible actor on the Iranian stage. He even survived a disputed re-election in 2009 that rocked the country to its core.
Mocked by progressive Iranians and blamed for severe mismanagement, Ahmadinejad has still created a cult following among some people through his charm, simple lifestyle and populist beliefs.
His fans glorify him as a humble servant who shuns the trappings of power. Ahmadinejad, so the story goes, took office refusing a salary and going to work with a packed lunch.
But such modesty does not extend to his fiery character which lies at the heart of his quest for global recognition.