Source: RFE/RLIn Iran, Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri, the former Friday Prayers leader in the city of Isfahan, recently described the reelection of Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad as "illegitimate" and "tyrannical." In recent days, a number of other Iranian clerics have stepped up to criticize the official election result and the ensuing crackdown on peaceful protesters. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke to one of them, prominent Qom-based reformist cleric Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Ayazi, a senior member of the Qom Seminary Society of Theologians, about the significance of the growing criticism by the clergy.
RFE/RL: How significant is the recent statement by Ayatollah Taheri and
similar statements by other clerics?
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Ayazi: [A number of clerics] in Qom believe that the way the election was conducted was not correct and healthy, therefore they called for an investigation by an independent group. Many believed, because of the evidence, that there was massive manipulation in the June 12 vote. Therefore the statement by Ayatollah Taheri, who is one of the Isfahan's most prominent clerics, is also in the same line and I think it was natural for the clerics to defend people's rights.
RFE/RL: What kind of impact do you think this statement by Ayatollah Taheri and other similar statements and comments by other clerics can have on the current situation, especially now that the results have been validated by the Guardians Council?
Ayazi: It was predictable that the results would be confirmed because of the support from the Supreme Leader from day one, and later in his Friday Prayers comments [Khamenei] clearly said that the election was healthy, so it was natural that the Guardians Council, which is controlled by him, wouldn't say anything different. The impact of [comments by clerics] is that people who have been protesting and demonstrating in Tehran and other cities, become informed and know that a number of clerics are supporting them by issuing statements, making speeches, and making comments in this regard.
RFE/RL: The divisions within the Iranian establishment have become more obvious than before because of the current crisis and they seem to have deepened. The same divisions seem to exist among the clergy. What is your view? On the one hand, we see Grand Ayatollah Montazeri [Iran's most prominent dissident ayatollah] condemning the government's violent response as un-Islamic, on the other hand Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami demands that protestors be "savagely punished."
Ayazi: If you look now, with the exception of a few clerics who have ties with the government, the majority of clerics have not issued any statements in support and confirmation of the election results. Ayatollah Safi, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, Ayatollah Zanjani, and Ayatollah Montazeri and other figures have not only not confirmed the election results, but have made explicit or implicit comments and expressed their protests. The degree of their stances and condemnation have been different but what I want to say is that there are no real divisions. We have a group of clerics that are backed by the establishment and another group of independent clerics. The independent clerics have expressed their [critical] stances toward the election.
RFE/RL: Are you saying that most independent clerics have been critical of the election results and the repression?
Ayazi: Yes. They've been critical on two issues. For a year or more, they have been critical of Ahmadinejad's government. In the past two years they wouldn't agree to have meetings with the government. During that time the government hasn't been held in any regard by these high-ranking clerics and sources of emulation [Shi'a religious title] who weren't ready to meet and work with the government. This is one issue. The second issue is regarding the June 12 vote, some sources of emulation have been very critical and some have issued private letters or have issued warning to officials in private meeting and told them "why are you reacting like this? Why are you creating doubts about the election?" Some have remained silent and haven't confirmed and expressed support for the election results.
RFE/RL: How do you see the future? Are you expecting more criticism from clerics or do you think that now that the results have been confirmed the criticism will fade?
Ayazi: It's not easy to predict how things will evolve because usually it's not the style of the clerics and sources of emulation to come and take seasonal stances, just those who were active even before the 1979 revolution, those are different. But in general what I can say is that a serious fissure has been created between the government that claims it has won the election and those people who believe there was fraud and took to the streets and called for a change.
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