Monday, July 6, 2009

Iran: Pro-Democracy Clerics vs. IRGC Hardliners

Pro-democracy senior clerics are legitimizing dissent while senior IRGC leaders demand a “deciding role” in governing Iran. Khamenei continues his balancing act but looks more and more exposed as elite discord intensifies.

Pro-democracy clerics are legitimizing dissent, defying attempts by clerics favoring strict guidance from a clerical “representative of Allah” to define opposition to Ahmadinejad as seditious and urging Mousavi to form a political party.

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Mousavi-Tabrizi, leader of a reform group of Qom clerics called the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers, has urged “people such as Mousavi” to set up “strong political parties,” calling them good for “strengthening democracy.” The inherent contradiction in Khomenei’s dual concept of a state based on both veliyat e-faqih (guidance by Allah’s representative) and open elections is becoming ever more clearly revealed.

Even in Iran, calling for a political party may not seem unusual since there are numerous parties and factional associations that participate in the vigorous political scene, but in the current circumstances when leading supporters of Ahmadinejad are urging that Mousavi be tried for sedition, such calls from within the clerical establishment directly challenge the legitimacy of the hardliners.

The IRGC is meeting the implicit challenge to its rising star with equal boldness. Yadollah Javani, head of the IRGC’s Political Bureau, asserted flatly:

Today, no one is impartial. There are two currents; those who defend and support the revolution and the establishment, and those who are trying to topple it… the eye of the mischief must be blinded completely and gouged out.

IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari seemed to offer a clear military definition of “those who defend” with his unambiguous challenge that “the IRGC must play a deciding role in the preservation and continuation of the revolution.”

Opposition = sedition. We are in charge, and there is no room for compromise.

The Ahmadinejad faction may feel secure with the support of Khamenei, the conservative portion of the senior clerics, and an apparently united military/security apparatus, but the clumsy behavior of that group seems to be provoking more and more resistance. In revolutionary Iran, the national security elite may find the combination of mass protests and increasingly outspoken ayatollahs a difficult challenge.

Two days ago Ayatollah Mousavi-Tabrizi was making remarks to foreign reporters and on his website. Today, his remarks are being carried by Iranian media.

Slightly reversing course in a continuation of his historical balancing act, Supreme Leader Khamenei gently chastised extremists and offered a degree of protection to the pro-democracy faction, warning:

The [Iranian] nation, scholars and all political factions should be careful not to mistake friends for foes and as a result adopt an approach with friends that is only appropriate in dealing with foes.

The IRGC and various clerical factions are now battling it out in the open, while mere politicians run for cover. Majlis Speaker Larijani left immediately for another foreign trip as soon as he returned from Algeria. Ahmadinejad, who took a trip right after the election, had scheduled a second one but curiously canceled it. Cancelation may have been due to concerns by the African hosts that he would distract them from their business, but he does seem to be very quiet at the moment.

Background on Iran’s clerical establishment

Several clerical organizations have offered public judgments about the recent political turmoil, suggesting rising clerical concern over the revolution they led amid clear disagreement within senior clerical ranks.

Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Salek, a member of the Central Council of the Society of Combatant Clergy, cautioned, according to Mehr News,:

The preservation of society and the Islamic Revolution… is dependent on maintaining unity and kindness among intellectuals and political thinkers.

According to Wikipedia, Khamenei was one of the founders of the conservative Society of Combatant Clergy, whose current members include Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmad Jannati, Mahdavi Kani, Reza Akrami and Hassan Rohani.

In a qualified victory for Ahmadinejad, the Qom Seminary Teachers Society congratulated him on his reelection as president but also “insisted that now that the competition is over it is a time for friendship and cooperation,” according to Mehr News.

The conservative Qom Seminary Teachers Society, which proposes judges for the judiciary, includes Ahmadinejad’s religious mentor Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi as well as Ayatollah Morteza Moghtadai, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, Grand Ayatollah Moslem Malakouti, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Mazaheri, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, and Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.(Wikipedia) Given the membership of Mesbah Yazdi, Shahroudi, and Khatami (who has been an outspoken critique of the dissidents since the election), one might have expected a stronger endorsement of Ahmadinejad from this organization.

The Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers, a reformist group of Qom clerics distinct from the Qom Seminary Teachers Society, said the Guardian Council no longer had the "right to judge in this case as some of its members have lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public." The group’s message, which apparently was ignored by Iranian media (at least by its English-language media), continued:

How can one accept the legitimacy of the election just because the Guardians Council says so? Can one say that the government born out of these infringements is a legitimate one? --AFP

An English website of Iranian news, Tehran Broadcast, reported an interview with Hossein Mousavi-Tabrizi, quoting him as supporting Mousavi’s right to demonstrate and asserting that “any regime who denies peoples’ rights is unlawful.”

Ayatollah Mousavi-Tabrizi, also head of the Political Parties House, is the former chief prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court and a former member of the Council of Experts, and seems to have been quite the vicious extremist in the desperate years of the 1980s, but he has a history in recent years of defending democratic principles. In 2002, he was quoted in Newsweek as taking a starkly different attitude toward the role of religion in politics from that of such arch-conservatives as Mesbah-Yazdi, saying, “The idea that only a select number of clerics have the right to make decisions for the masses is un-Islamic and illegal. God hasn't given anyone an exclusive right to rule. If religion interferes in every detail of government, it will fail.” A couple years later, he criticized the Guardian Council’s oversight of elections before as constraining the people’s legitimate rights to elect their own representatives.

Pro-Ahmadinejad comments from within the regime:

Tehran's Interim Friday Prayers Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati –

“The world has its eyes fixed on Iran's post-election developments so we need to end the ongoing dispute.” Press TV, June 3

Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini

“Unfortunately, in the election… the nation was divided into two groups and this issue is a poison for our system,” Mehr News, June 4

Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati –

“We did whatever we could do in this election and the election was really a healthy election and there was nothing wrong with it.”

“We are all brothers and should maintain unity and if anybody disturbs unity (his action) is considered a betrayal of the Islamic Republic system.” Mehr News, June 3

"Those who hold illegal rallies and gatherings should be legally pursued," parliament member Muhammad Taghi Rahbar was quoted as saying by the hardline Javan newspaper. Kayhan International July 4

In an editorial against Mousavi, Shariatmadari wrote, "It has to be asked whether the actions of (Mousavi and his supporters) are in response to instructions of American authorities."

He added that Mousavi was trying to "escape punishment for murdering innocent people, holding riots, cooperating with foreigners and acting as America's fifth column inside the country" and called for Mousavi and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami to be tried in court for "horrible crimes and treason."

1 comment:

Daniel said...

What I'm curious about in light of the recent allegations by some Iranian clerics that the election is illegitimate is what difference we may see in Iran supposing the clerics get their way.

I saw this interesting quote: "...the authority of the rahbar goes against the traditional system through which Shiite society chooses its leader." at

So apparently the Iranian constitution will need some revision before it will conform to traditional values.