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Khamenei in Command

by MEHDI KHALAJI

28 Oct 2010 02:4212 Comments
StreetPaintingKhameneiKhomeini.jpgLeader reasserts authority during Qom trip.

[ analysis ] Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's fourth and longest official visit to Qom since he became Supreme Leader 21 years ago can be seen as a sign of his self-confidence in ending the unrest following the disputed 2009 presidential election. Khamenei reasserted his authority during a sometimes boisterous nine-day trip to Qom, a holy city and the center of Shia scholarship in Iran.

Last year, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the Islamic Republic's founding fathers and Khamenei's former teacher, publically declared that Khamenei lacked the religious credentials to issue fatwas and was ineligible to be the country's ultimate authority. In one of his last statements before his death in December, Montazeri said that the Islamic Republic was neither Islamic nor republic, but had instead become a military dictatorship. Montazeri, who lived in Qom, had effectively become the intellectual mentor to the opposition Green Movement.

At the peak of the post-election demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of Iranians attended Montazeri's funeral ceremony. His death quickly turned into an unprecedented protest in Qom -- a city that had been isolated from the national turmoil -- against the regime and especially Khamenei.

Protesters shouted slogans critical of the supreme leader, including "Khamenei is a murderer, so his religious authority is not valid anymore." After six months of unrest, Montazeri's funeral in Qom reflected the scope of the challenge to Khamenei's legitimacy as supreme leader.

Since then, however, the regime has tightened its hold on Qom. Clerics who criticized the government for cracking down on protesters last year have been silenced. Some, like Ahmad Ghabel, are still in prison. The websites of three ayatollahs have been blocked, their offices shut down, and their houses put under surveillance. The regime has also spent millions of dollars on the clerical establishment and religious institutions to generate support. For a wide variety of reasons, most of Iran's clerics have for now opted to back the government.

In contrast to the December 2009 protests, thousands greeted Khamenei in Qom in October 2010. The majority of ayatollahs called on him, a sign of deference. The regime's goal on the tightly controlled trip has been to show that Khamenei's religious authority and legitimacy were not tarnished by the post-election turmoil.

The Iranian opposition has also tried to use the official visit to underscore divisions among the few clerics still willing to publicly criticize the regime. They do not necessarily reflect a common position, however. The opposition has criticized the Islamic Republic for not being enough of a "republic," while the traditional clerics have quietly criticized the government for not being "Islamic" enough.

Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, studied Shia theology in the Qom seminary of Iran. He is the author of "Iran Primer: Politics and the Clergy." The Iran Primer is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute for Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

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12 Comments

Was this article written before Khamenei's visit to Qom?

Ian / October 28, 2010 4:22 AM

What prompts the question? The article clearly references events that occurred during the trip.

Dan Geist / October 28, 2010 4:40 AM

Regardless of when the article was written, Khamenei doesn't go to Qom unless a favorable political climate is already set and prepared for his arrival. His supporters and top lieutenants would see to that so we can't read much into this visit other than Khamenei and his network are indeed active and hard at work to maintain his authority.

Michael / October 28, 2010 8:27 AM

Dan,

That was a somewhat flippant remark, bearing in mind that Khamenei's trip to Qom was apparently not quite the lap of honour that was planned. Although Khamenei has managed to muster a few maraji, they are far from united behind him, so to call his trip a victory is an overstatement.

Ian / October 28, 2010 12:25 PM

Did anyone expect majority of Mullahs to go against Khamenei?! Islamic Republic is a fascist theocracy, not some kind of Vatican like autocracy.

Iranians are opposed to the entire Islamist regime, not just a faction of it. I guess the reformist faction LOBBY in the US, paid by Rafsanjani Mafia, does not let that message to get through.

Maziar Irani / October 28, 2010 12:40 PM

First of all, Khalaji is full of himself and nonsense.

He is an Iranian neocon who has been with WINEP ever since he came to the States. His analyses are full of nonsense. He helps WINEP and its "father," AIPAC, in their propaganda against Iran, not just the IRI. He should be ashamed of himself. He always says, "he studied shia clergy in Qom," just to give himself "credibility," just like Mohsen Sazegara that says he was with IRGC and "one of its founders," whereas in reality he was with IRGC for only three months and left precisely because he was not given a senior command position.

Secondly, saying Khamenei is in command has its purpose. What Khalaji really wants to say is that the Green Movement is no more. He cannot get himself to say it, so he says that next "best" thing. The neocons like Khalaji do not deal with reality, but as a former Bushie said, they "create" reality as they go.

Third, who says Khamenei's trip to Qom was a success? Who says he is in command? The hardliners spent at least 20 billion toumans to put up a show. Khamenei never got a single word about what he had gone to Qom for: His recognition by other senior clergy as a Marja', and his son as a Mojtahed. He praised Mesbah Yazdi, a fascist clergy, profusely. Add to that the fact that he entered Qom through a narrow street for the fear that it won't be filled, photos of some of the people greeting him showing clearly that they are not even Iranian, and saturation of Qom with security forces, and you get a clear picture of whether he is in "command."

I do not even know why TB posts such pieces of nonsense. TB is hurting itself for posting such nonsense. Posting a variety of opinions is one thing, posting nonsense is quite different. What is next? GW Bush, Denis Ross, Martin Indyk, and AIPAC leadership weighing in?

Maziar Irani, aka Maziar55 in other sites:

How do you know that Iranians are opposed reformists? Based on what fact? Yes, you "guess," after fantasizing about it.

Vaez / October 28, 2010 7:52 PM

Vaez, agreed: not sure why there are so any neocons creeping on here all of a sudden. Maybe it is funding issues, as they always have the $$$. Getting "different" views is one thing. but many of these warmongers aren't even journalists or writers but thinktank hasbara soldiers. Why give them such a large podium all of a sudden?

Houshang / October 28, 2010 8:52 PM

You wont understand what your opponent thinks and would do things as long as you have not have not tried to see the world from their perspective, no matter how skewed and arrogant of view that might be.

Being a NeoCon is not a bad thing as much as giving the impression that they should not be out there in the political scene. It is not realistic and its un-pluralistic. They can say what they want and its up to people to decide as a whole whether to go for their promises as people did in 03, so much as they did the opposite in 08.

So please be tolerant to them as you expect tolerance and understanding from your their end.
AIPAC is serving a vital service to Israeli .This does not mean that everybody's interested is served. It just happened that they are more well-connected and more pervasive on the political, social , media , economical areas. This by no means stops others to set up their advocacy groups .

AIPAC has not always played clean. there are cases of espionage traced back to them and their involvement in other shady areas, nevertheless diligence of citizenry and rule of law has always acted as a check for such an organizations, although sometimes not as effectively as hoped for.

To draw a comparison you can name the role that circles of power do in Iran politics.


Politic needs as much doves as hawks but no hacks please!,

PersianTraveler / October 29, 2010 1:53 AM

Persian Traveler, in that case, why only have the anti-IRI neocons on here? Why not an article or two by Shariatmadari? Daneshjou? Mohammad Ali Ramin? And their ilk?

Why not? Because the slogan of this website is "An independent source of news on Iran and the Iranian diaspora" not "march of the Hasbara soldiers".

For now, ONE side of the propaganda is definitely getting first class treatment.

Houshang / October 29, 2010 7:49 AM

Houshang:

I agree with your last post. Why not Mohammad Ali Ramin - the fascist who taught AN about denial of the Holocaust? Why not Daneshjou, or Brother Hossein - Shariatmadari?

And it is not just Khalaji. Stewart Eisenstadt whose article has been posted by TB (check the front page), has been advocating state-sponsored terrorism against Iran for years. This was pointed out by Muhammad Sahimi in his article on cyberspace war on Iran.

And, there are others too.

Vaez / October 29, 2010 9:07 AM

My first reaction was like that of Vaez, but Khalaji's article is so obviously ambiguous that its inconsistencies can easily be revealed: Khamenei's claimed authority is reasserted by imprisoning his opponents, silencing critical grand ayatollahs and spending millions to stage this "event". I wonder, if such actions should be translated into "authority".
The best answer to this piece of uncritical "journalism" is Babak Dad's excellent analysis of political signs and meanings, emerging from Khamenei's trip to Qom: http://babakdad.blogspot.com/2010/10/blog-post_22.html
Khalaji's piece may convince a few ignorant western readers, but not Iranians, who are able to read Persian news.

Arshama / October 29, 2010 4:49 PM

Iranian have always been lucky enough to be underestimated by their enemies.

Those who can not see or do not like to see how people of Qom welcomed Khamanei, then off course can write and say whatever they like. Mr. Khalaji uses "Hundreds of Thousands" for those who attended the Montazeri's funeral while uses "Thousands" for welcomers to Khamanei. But those who have seen the realities on the ground or through cameras onboard of helicopters know that both Mr. Khalaji and Mr. Vaez are lying.

Mohsen / November 8, 2010 8:24 PM