Concern Over Rafsanjani's Appeal
While election posturing is already the preoccupation of many Iranian politicians and "wanna bes", clerics and student followers of influential right-wing cleric ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah, who enjoy connections inside Iran’s security-military establishment, are clearly expanding their efforts to tighten their controls over clerics in the country. Their project is dubbed “creating fear from an alternative future” and aims at frightening clerics from leaning towards any alternatives to the current ruling circles. These clerics and students are now launching accusations of engaging in espionage and sedition against other clerics.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) cleric Mojtaba Zolnoor and another cleric Hossein Jalali, ayatollah Yazdi’s chief of staff have embarked on a series of sermons in various mosques in Qom in which they present a myriad of political scenarios of the future for their radical attendees.
Jalali for example asserts that “the enemy has devised plans to complicate the sedition by using Qom’s existing potentials.” Sedition is a term Iran’s ruling circles use for the Green Movement and its leaders who questioned the official results of the 2009 presidential election which they say were rigged. Its top leaders are still under house arrest since 2011. “Spy agencies and seditionists are engaged in cultivating clerics who will become their agents and implementers in Qom. They have made extensive investments in them and even raise their stature to the level of a senior cleric (a mojtahed, i.e., a religious authority sanctioned to pass religious edicts). They also launch new groupings,” he said.
He aired accusations against some senior clerics such as ayatollah Shariatmadari, Montazeri and Sanei and expressed dissatisfaction with some clerical organizations such as the Society of Researchers and Teachers of Qom (Majmae Mohagheghin va Modaresin) over their positions vis-a-vis the disputed 2009 presidential election and said, “In the course of the sedition, some 12 groups presented wrong information on the seditionists and these infiltrators must be identified. How is it that they can muster 40 busses and bring 1,500 people to Qom, while religious students in Qom had to spend the night on the streets to prevent this group from entering the city?”
Society of Researchers and Teachers of Qom (Majmae Mohagheghin va Modaresin)
Using the “seditionists” as his subject, he said that they questioned the regime and used the mistakes of Iranian officials to attack the whole regime. “The general direction of the regime is that of improvement and progress. Its scientific advances have made the world angry. So its weaknesses and shortcomings should not be stressed,” he said.
Jalali even had some instructive words for senior clerics who are supporters of the regime but who have also criticized some of its policies and decisions, particularly the violent crackdown that was launched by the security-militia apparatus after the 2009 elections and the economic pressures on the public. “We accept that inflation and unemployment exist in the country but the achievements of the regime should not be overlooked,” he said.
In his talk, Jalali also expressed dissatisfaction with those clerics who did not support the hardline pro-regime clerics who are mostly students of ayatollah Yazdi. He said “because these pro-regime clerics were revolutionaries, they are belittled and accused of being illiterate, even though some of them enjoy the stature of senior clerics. The highest teachers organization has not accepted that these revolutionary students and clerics be given the rank of being valayi (i.e., supporters of the supreme leader). This is an unacceptable situation where teachers in Qom are not allowed to have this rank.”
Clerics are Taken to Rafsanjani
Speaking at Qom’s Ahl Beyt mosque, Mojtaba Zolnoor who is Yazdi’s disciple echoed Jalali’s message. This former IRGC commander (of the clerics and religious students battalion which has a record of attacking peaceful demonstrations) said, “Hashemi Rafsanjani, the reformist camp and the deviant group say things that we do not believe are in line with the directives of the supreme leader.”
He pointed his critical words at Rafsanjani and continued, “Calling for free elections is to question the regime and be in line with the enemy. Unfortunately, Mr. Hashemi has acted badly and most certainly wants to influence the upcoming election because his recent meetings have multiplied many fold.”
In reference to Jalali’s comments about “the cultivation of clerics by spy agencies” Zolnoor said, “We know of people who are working to recruit clerics. They also gather clerics to take them to Mr. Hashemi and then praise them.”
He expressly displayed his disapproval of visits to Rafsanjani and the latter’s respect for the detained leaders of the Green Movement. “Groups of people wearing green bands go to see Rafsanjani who hail when the names of Mousavi and Karoubi are mentioned,” he said.
The remarks of these two pro-regime and pro Yazdi clerics were made in the presence of another supporter, Mohammad Hossein Saffar Herandi, the current advisor to the commander of the IRGC force. Herandi also spoke at the same meetings and has spoken of the importance for principlists to remain in power, warning about the consequences of the return of reformers.
It should be noted that just last week, Hashemi Rafsanjani met with a group of clerics, researchers and scholars from the Qom Theological Seminary and warned against the current “attacks and plots to harm the faith, people’s beliefs and the Shiite clergy.”
In that meeting, Rafsanjani is reported to have said, “The same situation that was created after the constitutional movement (in 1907) and also during the Pahlavi regime to destroy and drive away the seminaries and clerics is being pursued today, albeit under a different guise. There are efforts underway to discredit ayatollah Khomeini, the clerics and even the principle of the revolution.”He called on the clerics to be alert and thwart these efforts.
In another meeting with journalists and media activists last week, Rafsanjani called on for the upcoming elections to be held at international standards, while keeping his own options for candidacy completely open.
The Launching of the Fear Mongering Project
Classified internal bulletins of the IRGC and its affiliate Basij militia, and a group of clerics in Qom who engage in online activities, have in recent months published articles that speak of a change in perspective among Qom clerics regarding the performance of the officials of the Islamic republic, disappointment with the ruling circles and attraction towards Rafsanjani and the reformers.
The result of this trend has been that appointees of ayatollah Khamenei have launched a series of talks warning against the observed “disregard for the leader” and clerical indifferences to the policies of the Islamic republic and have talked about the possible negative outcome of such practices and views. Creating fear of an alternative future is one goal of these talks.
Cleric Ahmad Khatami, a Friday imam appointed by ayatollah Khamenei, last week told a group of imams in Qom that clerics could not be indifferent to the upcoming elections. He said taking a liberal stance on the elections translated into taking an opposing view to the Islamic republic. In his talk, he also implicitly complained about disregard for the supreme leader. He specifically said clerics should not listen to their relatives or friends and not be disappointed.
In his talk he specifically said that if the Islamic republic collapsed those who come to power would be completely against the faith. He warned that should that happen, the enemies would take out their animosity on religion and the revolution.
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