Cleric wields religion to challenge Iran’s theocracy

Cleric wields religion to challenge Iran’s theocracy

For years, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri criticized Iran’s supreme leader and argued that the country was not the Islamic democracy it claimed to be, but his words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Now many Iranians, including some former government leaders, are listening.

Ayatollah Montazeri has emerged as the spiritual leader of the opposition, an adversary the state has been unable to silence or jail because of his religious credentials and seminal role in the founding of the republic.

He is widely regarded as the most knowledgeable religious scholar in Iran and once expected to become the country’s supreme leader until a falling-out with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution and Iran’s supreme leader until his death in 1989.

Now, as the Iranian government has cracked down to suppress the protests that erupted after the presidential election in June and devastated the reform movement, Ayatollah Montazeri uses religion to attack the government’s legitimacy.

“We have many intellectuals who criticize this regime from the democratic point of view,” said Mehdi Khalaji, a former seminary student in Qum and now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He criticizes this regime purely from a religious point of view, and this is very hurtful. The regime wants to say, ‘If I am not democratic enough that doesn’t matter, I am Islamic.’

“He says it is not an Islamic government.” [continued…]

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