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Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).
But the feud has taken a metaphysical turn following the release of an Iranian documentary alleging the imminent return of the Hidden Imam Mahdi – the revered saviour of Shia Islam, whose reappearance is anticipated by believers in a manner comparable to that with which Christian fundamentalists anticipate the second coming of Jesus.
Conservative clerics, who say that the Mahdi's return cannot be predicted, have accused a "deviant current" within the president's inner circle, including Mashaei, of being responsible for the film.
Ahmadinejad's obsession with the hidden imam is well known. He often refers to him in his speeches and in 2009 said that he had documentary evidence that the US was trying to prevent Mahdi's return.
Since Ahmadinejad's return this week, at least 25 people, who are believed to be close to Mashaei, have been arrested. Among them is Abbas Amirifar, head of the government's cultural committee and some journalists of Mashaei's recently launched newspaper, Haft-e-Sobh.
A political dispute between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader is reported to have intensified. Ahmadinejad is said to be contemplating resigning after Heidar Moslehi, the intelligence minister he had sacked, was reinstated by Khamenei. The president is understood to have shirked some of his duties and skipped cabinet meetings for the past ten days in anger over the decision.
Mehrdad Khonsari, an analyst with the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, told Al Jazeera on Friday that the dispute, which began last month, had become "serious".