By Mahnaz Malekuti, Rooz Online
The recent dismissal of Qom’s cleric governor general has turned into yet another contention point between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Administration and the religious capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran where some senior ayatollahs, the Friday prayer leader and even the Hizbullah chapter of Qom have protested the change. Some have even threatened the government in Tehran.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently removed Mohammad-Hossein Mousavipour, a black-turbaned cleric, as governor of Qom and replaced him with Karam-Reza Piryiyaei. In Iran white turbans are worn by educated clerics while black turbans belong to those clerics who claim direct lineage to Islam’s prophet Mohammad, thus giving them a greater clout in all matters.
Qom’s relations with Ahmadinejad’s administration have been shaky. When public protests broke out against the official results of the tenth presidential elections in June of 2012 and the government used brutal force to crush protestors and demonstrations, some senior ayatollahs in Qom questioned the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s administration and its policies in dealing with the demonstrators. In responses, and as a way to win good will among clerics, the government decided to do something new at the time and put a cleric as the governor of Iran’s religious capital, Qom: it appointed Mohammad-Hossein Mousavipour to the post in October of 2009. As the first ever cleric governor of the city, he became quite popular in religious and political circles of the city.
Mousavipour belongs to the group of principlists (ideologues supporting the president) close to Majlis speaker Ali Larijani and influential representative Mohammad-Reza Bahonar. Some even claim he is married to Bahonar’s sister. For a short time he was the chief editor of Name Jam, a weekly news magazine belonging to the Society of Islamic Engineers and also the cultural and propaganda deputy at the Islamic Propagation Organization. He had been introduced to Ahmadinejad’s first minister of the interior Mostafa Pourmohammadi by Larijani’s team and was then appointed the parliamentary deputy of the interior ministry.
The removal of and transfer of governor generals, and even cabinet members has been a normal state of affairs in Ahmadinejad’s two administrations. In 2009 and after the disputed presidential elections of that year, three cabinet ministers were sacked because of their opposition to the appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashai as the first vice-president by Ahmadinejad. So the recent dismissal of Mousavipour in Qom has again deteriorated the relations between Ahmadinejad’s administration and the clergy in Qom to the point where the Hizbullah of Qom has issued a warning and has threatened that, “If the government does not rescind on its decision, Hizbullah shall carry out its historic mission.”
According to a member of the Hizbullah of Qom, “hypocrites (the term the Iranian regime uses for the Mujahidin Khalq Organization (also known as MKO), sedition members (the term the regime uses for the protestors of the 2009 engineered elections), or members of the deviant current (the term for Rahimi at the presidential office) do not belong to Qom. Hizbullah was prepared to present its life in the defense of the values and goals of Islamic and revolutionary values and in the defense ofvelayate and marjaiyat (i.e., clerical leadership).”
The event that has ticked off parts of the political establishment of Qom is the replacement of the province’s governor with Karam-Reza Piryiyaei, the governor general of Hamedan province. The problem with Piryiyaei, from the perspective of Qom, is that he had supported the president - who is now out of favor - during his controversial 11-day boycott of the government and cabinet (which was itself done as a response to ayatollah Khamenei’s reinstatement of a minister of intelligence that the president had dismissed). Piryiyaei is considered to be a close ally of vice-president Rahimi.
After Mousavipour’s dismissal, protests were heard against the appointment of the new governor. Seyed Mohammad Saeed, the Friday prayer leader of Qom and a former custodian of the Fatimah shrine in Qom (Fatimah is the sister of the Shia-revered Imam Ali, prophet Mohammad’s fourth successor) who is seen as a cleric close to ayatollah Khamenei, publicly protested the new appointment during a Friday prayer sermon and called on the government to reinstall Mousavipour as Qom’s governor. Reports indicate that another senior cleric in Qom, ayatollah Ali Safi Golpaygani, has also expressed his displeasure over the removal of Mousavipour.
Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani, the representative of Qom in the Majlis and a member of the influential Jame Modaresine Hoze Elmie Qom (Teachers Association of the Qom Theological Seminary) criticized the removal of Mousavipour and said it lacked justification.
Students affiliated to the Student Basij also publicly expressed their dissatisfaction and published an open letter to the minister of the interior saying the appointment of Karam-Reza Piryiyaei as the new governor general of Qom brought about surprise by those who knew the governor and “his record”. What they meant by “his record” was Mousavipour’s overt incitement of governors in support of Ahmadinejad 11-day boycott in 2011. At the time, Mousavipour wrote a letter to Iran’s leader ayatollah Khamenei - a letter that became known as the letter of 13 governors to Khamenei - in which he defended and supported Ahmadinejad’s boycott and the latter’s dismissal of the then minister of intelligence. Since that event, the other governors have rescinded their signatures to the letter, while Mousavipour has till today not done so.
Mojtaba Rahmandoost, a Tehran representative in the Majlis wrote to Mehr news agency in this regard that while the reasons for the removal of Mousavipour have not been announced, “it is heard that this was done because of his resistance primarily against the demands of the deviant current [i.e., Rahimi in the president’s office] while the appointment of a specific person as the new governor complicates the issue because of the record of the new appointee.”
Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a previous Majlis speaker is also among the critics of the shuffle in governors.
Even Baztab website close to Hashemi Rafsanjani had a little different view when it wrote, “Some media have written that Mousavipour’s replacement took place because of his close ties to Larijani. Others have written that Mousavipour had told Ahmadinejad that the president would be supported only so long as he remained in line with views of the supreme leader, a statement that brought his downfall.”
But the real issue for supporters of Mousavipour - viewed as a member of Ali Larijani’s clique in Qom - seems to be the close ties between Piryiyaei and vice-president Rahimi, who is a defendant in a very high profile insurance lawsuit that includes a number of senior politicians. Last year at the height of Ahmadinejad’s boycott of the cabinet, Piryiyaei was delivering a Friday prayer sermon in Hamedan when he was confronted with chants against the deviant course (a term used for vice-President Mashai and a number of other close associates of Ahmadinejad). Piryiyaei stopped his sermon and left the scene.
During the ceremony to introduce the new governor of Qom, the outgoing governor himself made a sharp cynical remark against “those who helped the president make the decision” to replace him.
During Mousavipour’s tenure, actions were taken against some senior clerics in Qom who were supporting the president. According to some reports he was a supporter of plainclothes agents who attacked grand ayatollah Sanei’s house in 2010 and had asked the police not to confront the attackers. It was after this event that the Teachers Association of the Qom Theological Seminary wrote a letter to chief of the judiciary Mohammad Yazdi, to remove ayatollah Sanei from his title as a senior ayatollah.
The offices of the late grand ayatollah Montazeri were shut during Mousavipour’s governorship. Mousavipour has also publicly spoken against the protestors of the 2009 disputed elections saying they helped the enemy of the revolution.
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