Election Underscores Splits Among Iranian Clerics
The disputed Iranian presidential election has
highlighted the divide in Iran's clerical establishment. Conservative religious
scholars welcomed the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while
reformist religious figures have criticized the results. Some religious leaders
are uncomfortable with Mr. Ahmadinejad for his political actions and his
messianic religious views.
Qom is the center of Islamic learning in Iran. So when a group of clerics in Qom
released a statement condemning the results of the Iranian presidential election
and questioning the government's legitimacy, it prompted world headlines. Some
news outlets proclaimed the clerics are on a collision course with the Supreme
Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The statement came from a group called the "Assembly of Scholars and Teachers of
Qom Seminary," which is a pro-reformist gathering of clerics. The Guardian
Council blocked its leader from running for parliament last year.
Analysts say it is a counterweight to a rival group with a similar-sounding
name, the "Society of Teachers of Qom Seminary," a conservative and powerful
association with a membership of seven ayatollahs and three grand ayatollahs.
So the condemnatory statement was not really a surprise, and analysts say any
talk of a head-on clash between the clerics and the Supreme Leader is premature
at best. Nevertheless, they add, there are political splits in the clerical
establishment, some of which have come into the open because of the disputed
Jane's Information Group senior Middle East analyst Alex Vatanka says any public
statements issued by clerics challenging the election's legitimacy should be
"The fact that you have members of the Shia clergy talk about the Council of
Guardians not being qualified to do the job [of certifying the election] that
the constitution has set it to do is the big issue," Vatanka said. "These guys
are not fringe elements. They are not sitting somewhere outside the country
making up directives. They are sitting at the heart of Shia teachings within
Iran, in a theocracy."
Vatanka says President Ahmadinejad, who is not a cleric, has alienated clerics
on policy and religion.
"By and large what Ahmadinejad has done is create a whole host of enemies in the
clerical establishment for various reasons," Vatanka said. "He has gone after
some of them, accused them of economic corruption and all the rest of it. You
heard that as part of the campaign. But you also have clerical members who are
against Ahmadinejad's presidency and running of the state from a more religious
point of view."
Mr. Ahmadinejad won his first term in 2005 by running on a populist platform,
railing about corruption. Analysts say many Iranians view the clerical class as
privileged, pampered, and corrupt. His particular target then and now is former
president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is a cleric.
In 2006, the president ordered women be allowed into stadiums for sports events.
Senior clerics denounced that as promoting indecency, and he was forced to back
down. Some clerics were also reportedly taken aback by his dispatch of a letter
to Pope Benedict, who is a controversial figure in some quarters of the Muslim
Syracuse University Middle East Studies Director Mehrzad Boroujerdi says Mr.
Ahmadinejad enjoys the favor of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but
never built bridges to the clerical establishment.
"Ahmadinejad does not have a good relationship with the clerical establishment
to begin with, the ones in Qom or Mashaad or other important places," Boroujerdi
said. "Yes, he is a good buddy with Khamenei. But in terms of having forged ties
with the heavyweight clerics in Qom, he has not done that. And, indeed, some of
the things he has said in the past have alienated them."
Mr. Ahmadinejad has also raised eyebrows for invoking a messianic belief into
policy matters. He has repeatedly made reference to his belief in the Hidden
Imam, whom Shiites believe disappeared 1,000 years ago and will return after an
apocalypse to usher in an era of peace and harmony. It is very similar to the
belief held by some End Times Christians of the second coming of Jesus after an
apocalyptic battle between good and evil.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has invoked the Mahdi, as the Imam is called, several times,
even in his 2005 speech at the United Nations. In a 2008 speech, he said that
the Mahdi is in charge of the world and that we see his hand directing all the
affairs of the country.
Mehrzad Boroujerdi says that makes some orthodox Islamic scholars uneasy.
"Some of them, for example, are not happy with the messianic tone of his
arguments because if you put yourself in the position, there is all this talk of
the return of the hidden imam," Boroujerdi said. "If you are a grand ayatollah,
the return of the hidden imam means that your days are numbered, right? You are
going to be without a job. So the fact that Ahmadinejad keeps repeating that
kind of argument does not necessarily endear him to the clerics, even though in
public they have to remain mute."
The president's spiritual mentor is a leading Iranian proponent of Mahdiism, the
highly conservative cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. That Ayatollah
is also chairman of the conservative Society of Teachers of Qom Seminary, which
has thrown its support behind Mr. Ahmadinejad in the election controversy. Some
analysts believe Yazdi is in line to be Iran's next Supreme Leader if the
country does not embark on a new course.
... Payvand News - 07/08/09 ... --