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Outspoken Iranian Cleric Draws Reformist Fans

By Fardad Farehi, Tehran (source: Mianeh)


Ex-minister, once jailed for his views, urged to declare himself a presidential candidate.


Abdollah Noori

Former interior minister Abdollah Noori is considering entering the presidential race after a group of teachers and academics asked him to run.


Noori's backers call themselves "supporters of structural reform", arguing that ex-president Mohammed Khatami's reforms were temporary and did not change the structure of the Islamic system.


Noori served as interior minister under Khatami's reformist government and was impeached by parliament. Khatami then appointed Noori his vice-president on development.


Noori is a revolutionary cleric who began his political career as a manager in state radio and television. He then worked as a deputy in the foreign ministry.


During the Iran-Iraq war, he also represented Ayatollah Khomeini in the Supreme Judicial Council's supervision committee, Jihad for Construction, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRCG. Under a direct order from Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1989, he became a member of the Council for Revision of the Constitution.


Noori was also former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's interior minister. In 1989 and in 1995, he was elected as a member of parliament for Tehran and he was also selected by Ayatollah Khameni to serve as a member of the regime's expediency council for two terms.


It was during the second decade of the revolution that Noori joined the opposition to conservatives in Iran and was impeached as a result. After his impeachment, he started a newspaper, Khordad, which was soon banned along with many other reformist titles.


Nouri was seen as a key opponent of the conservative current in Iran. In 1999, he was tried by the special clergy court, for insulting the prophets, spreading lies and working against national security.


He was sentenced to five years in prison, but made bold defence statements.


Noori gave a speech to the court defending the civil and political rights of banned groups such as the Iran Freedom Movement and people like Ayatollah Montazeri, Iran's top dissident cleric. He also cast doubts over Iranian policies on the Middle East peace process.


Noori's supporters encouraged him to ask for a pardon from Ayatollah Khameni, but he declined and was jailed. In November 2002, following the death of his brother, Alireza Noori, the court agreed to release him.


Noori spent three years in prison and chose to be silent on political issues following his release.


Now some student groups and a group of journalists have asked him to run for the tenth presidential election in Iran.


He has not given a definitive answer yet but said, "On the matter of the election, if the question is whether I have the ability to undertake the responsibility as the president and whether I can play a positive role and be effective, my answer would not be negative. I believe if the conditions require such an act, my answer could even be positive."


Noori is considering the presidency even though many of his views are contrary to the Islamic Republic's current policies.


He has warned that if the next president continues to carry out the current foreign and economic policies he will face serious problems. In Iran, the supreme leader has the final say and the president cannot publically oppose his decisions, especially on foreign policy and nuclear issues.


If Noori wants to implement structural reforms in Iran by limiting the supreme leader's power and expanding the power of the president, such moves would challenge Ayatollah Khamenei and the military, intelligence and economic institutions under him.


The main question for Noori's supporters is whether his candidacy will be approved by the Guardian Council, which could argue that he should be disqualified based on his prison record.


Another issue is how reformists will choose one candidate for the next presidential election. Besides Mehdi Karrobi, who officially announced he will run, the jury is still out on leaders such as Mohammad Khatami, Hassan Rowhani and Mohammad Reza Aref.


It is unclear whether Noori will step into the ring if the other reformist leaders decide to run. It is also unclear as to whether Noori's supporters or other reformist candidates would refuse to participate in the election if the Guardian Council did not approve his candidacy.


Said Hajarian, a reform movement strategist and a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Party, said during a debate with influential reformist Abbas Abdi, "One way [to obtain power] is rallying behind a strong and able person such as Abdollah Noori, a person who is not like Khatami. Students and those previously against participating in the election would support him.


"And if he was disqualified we could then say we would not participate in such an election. If he stayed, he would be backed by reformists and people who do not currently vote."


Fardad Farehi is a psedynoume for a journalist in Tehran


This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.

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