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Friday Prayers Leader Targets President's Wife; Syrian News Roundup

06 May 2011 19:12Comments

The public campaign to weaken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and heighten the authority of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may have entered a new stage today. In depicting Ayatollah Khamenei's status as that of an infallible Imam, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sadighi, leader of Tehran's Friday Prayers, even took a swipe at the president's wife. "One of the cabinet ministers told me, we believe that if his Excellency [Supreme Leader] decrees the divorce of the president's wife, the president's wife will become haram [religiously forbidden] for him and the president will no longer be able to touch her," Sadighi said in his sermon.

As our political columnist Muhammad Sahimi explains:

Friday prayer sermons all over Iran today were dedicated to the authority and power of Ayatollah Khamenei. The increasingly public rift between the two principlist camps has forced supporters of the Supreme Leader to rally around him and affirm his power. In his sermon today on the University of Tehran campus, where Tehran's official Friday Prayers are held, Sadighi said,

"I was meeting some of the cabinet ministers, and surely all of them without exception are Shiites believing in Amir ol-Momenin [Imam Ali, the First Imam of the Shiites and cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet] and emulators of Hazrat-e Agha [His Excellency, Khamenei], before being a government official. One of the ministers told me, 'We believe that if His Excellency decrees the divorce of the president's wife, she will become haram [religiously forbidden] for him and the president will no longer be able to touch her. That is how [much] we believe in him [Khamenei]."

Sadighi continued,

"We consider the Velaayat-Faghih [guardianship of the Islamic jurist, as represented by the Supreme Leader] above and beyond the Constitution. The late Mirza-ye Shirazi ordered the boycott of tobacco in Iran, and there was evidence that Imam Mahdi paid particular attention to it. Had the Constitution recognized Mirza-ye Shirazi as the Supreme Leader? Shiism has always been this way. Shiites have always been and will always be led by the flag of Velaayat-e Faghih. When the Faghih of the era boycotted tobacco, he was living in Iraq, but his decree demonstrated the power of Velaayat in the world and terrified the enemies..."

Sadighi was referring to Ayatollah Seyyed Hassan Shirazi, who issued a fatwa in 1890 for a tobacco boycott, after the Persian king, Nasser al-din Shah, granted a tobacco concession to Britain that sparked widespread protests. Due to the boycott, the king had to cancel the concession and compensate the British company. Contrary to Sadighi's claim, however, there was no constitution at that time, as Iran was ruled by an absolute monarchy.

Sadighi went on,

"Not only are the powers of the Velaayat-e Faghih and Hazrat-e Agha as the leader of the country absolute according to the Constitution -- Article 4 of the Constitution is an umbrella for all the powers -- he is also Marja taghlid [source of emulation for the masses] for millions of people both outside and inside the country. Thus, even without the Revolution and the Constitution, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei would have been a Marja with millions of followers and, therefore, the most important person in Shiism."

***

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled these further news and commentary items:

During today's Friday Prayers in Tehran, and at their conclusion, many slogans were shouted by those who participating. Some were in support of Khamenei -- such as "The blood in our veins is our gift to our Leader" and "We are all your soldiers, Khamenei, we obey your orders, Khamenei" -- and some attacked those who oppose Khamenei and the doctrine of Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist) by which he rules -- such as "Death to those who oppose Velaayat-e Faghih" and "Death to the perverted current," a reference to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, and his inner circle.

Friday Prayer Imams around the country -- including those in Rashtkhar, Neishabour, Tabriz, Isfahan, Ardestan, and Zanjan -- emphasized that Khamenei is the ultimate authority and that everyone must obey him.

Mohammad Saeedi, Imam of Qom's Friday Prayers, also affirmed the power of the Supreme Leader and warned that a new "sedition" may be coming. Referring to the Mojahedin-e Khlagh Organization with the standard epithet of "hypocrites," he said, "When a conspiracy by the hypocrites who do not fast and say their prayers did not succeed, a new one may be planned by those who do fast and say their prayers. The secret to our people's victories is their absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader. "

Influential conservative Majles deputy Mohammad Reza Bahonar said that he is pursuing an impeachment case against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has introduced a plan in the Majles according to which the president could be impeached without his even being questioned. Ahmadinejad supporters have reacted strongly to Bahonar's plan, calling it "playing with fire." They have threatened not only to take him to court, but also to bring to the nation's attention what he and those behind him are trying to do to the president. Bahonar was one of the most important supporters of Ahmadinejad when he came to power in 2005 and his nephew, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, is still a senior presidential adviser. At the same time, 90 other Majles deputies have asked the leadership to summon the president for questioning. The questions they want to pose concern various legal violations by the president, including not releasing the money for Tehran's subway system and not submitting to the Majles the names of candidates to head the new ministries created by the merger of former ones.

In an interview with Shoma, the weekly mouthpiece of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, Ahmad Khatami, a hardline cleric and Khamenei supporter, talked about Ahmadinejad and the episode with Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi. He said,

This was not the first time that the president fired a minister. A previous firing, that of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, was such that no one could defend it [he was fired while on an official visit to Senegal]. Thus, the president cannot say that he does not have the power to fire his ministers. You have it and have used it in the past. The role of Velaayat [the Supreme Leader] is to appear on the political scene when he feels danger for the country, and this case [of Moslehi] was one of those cases. [...]

We expected the president who, at least in his second term, came to power due to the support of the Velaayat, to obey his order and show up for work immediately. In the first cabinet meeting that he attended after ten days, he emphasized that he obeys the Velaayat. But, unfortunately, he did not do so. [...]

Who does not know that the rouhaniyat [the clerical circle], at least in his second term, has been the most ardent supporter of the president? Who does not know that Ayatollah [Mohammad Taghi] Mesbah Yazdi is one of the president's strongest supporters? Right now, Ayatollahs Mesbah Yazdi, Mohammad Yazdi, Ahmad Jannati, Alam ol-Hoda [of Mashhad] and other Prayer Imams are shouting to the president, be careful about the perverted current. When the 85-year-old Ayatollah [Abolghasem] Kazali feels the danger [of Mashaei], it is time to think, and Mr. President should at least consider the possibility that those who have been supporting him wish him well and success. [...]

Khatami (no relation to former President Mohammad Khatami) then admitted that the Qom clerics refused to issue a statement backing him for a second term:

I say this to be recorded for the first time in history. In a meeting of the Society of Qom's Seminary Teachers [a conservative group that supports Khamenei] before the presidential election [in 2009] I suggested we issue a statement and declare that we support Ahmadinejad minus Mashaei. Everybody agreed on the criticism of Mashaei; not even a single person opposed it. But it was agreed not to issue the statement.... I also declare one more point to be recorded in history. I voted for Ahmadinejad to obey the Supreme Leader and I believe that the majority who voted for him felt the same way.

The interviewer then posed the following to Khatami: "These days there are speculations that Ahmadinejad could have received 35 million votes, but due to his belief in Velaayat, he lost ten million votes. What do you think?" The cleric responded,

I do not whether the president has actually said so, and I do not want to make any accusations either. But, if this is true, this would be the greatest injustice done to the Supreme Leader. The president and his team know well that if it were not for the support of the Supreme Leader over the past few years, nothing would have been done. [The Supreme Leader] once said, "There has never been such a government since the Constitutional Revolution." He never told anyone whom to vote for. But our people guessed that he supported the president, and based on this guess, they voted for him. If it were not for the support of the Supreme Leader, Ahmadinejad would have lost a lot of votes.

Because Khatami's statements in Shoma confirmed that it was Khamenei who ensured that Ahmadinejad remained in office for a second term, he was forced to deny that he made them. In an interview with Jahan News, the website published by hardliner Ali Reza Zakani, Khatami offered this version of his previous words: "I said that because of the Supreme Leader's support of Ahmadinejad during his first term, the people guessed that he wanted Ahmadinejad to continue and thus they voted for him."

Cleric Morteza Agha Tehrani, a Majles deputy and the morality instructor to Ahmadinejad cabinet's, spoke about the possibility that the president might resign. He said that Khamenei has given a deadline to Ahmadinejad to either accept Moslehi retaining his post as minister of intelligence, or step down himself. According to Tehrani, the Supreme Leader has told Ahmadinejad that he has the right to criticize him, but if he cannot work with him and Moslehi, he should resign.

Interestingly, Ahmadinejad's son-in-law has also declared that he is opposed to the "perverted current." Khorshidi, who is secretary of the council of advisers to the president, said, "As a soldier of the Supreme Leader, I will spill even the last drop of my blood in order to stand against the perverted current that he has mentioned, whether it is within my family or outside of it. I am honored to be a soldier of the Supreme Leader."

Ammariyon, the website that reflects the views of Iran's Hezbollah, warned that the supporters of Ahmadinejad will try to gather on Monday in southern Tehran, using the anniversary of Fatemeh, daughter of the Prophet, as an excuse. It declared that the Hezbollah will prevent the gathering.

Reformist Majles deputy Jamshid Ansari said that Iran's economy is experiencing a deep recession, but that the Ahmadinejad administration is not willing to accept the fact. He said while that the administration believes that if it declares the economy to be in good condition, it will inspire improvement, it is only good planning that can lift the country out of the recession. As an example of the current dire situation, Ansari observed that the number of checks that are being returned for lack of funds has increased dramatically. Another deputy, Mousa al-Reza Sarvati, said that the budget submitted by Ahmadinejad to the Majles for the current fiscal year has a deficit of $4 billion.

After imprisoned university activist Zia Nabavi wrote a moving letter to the judiciary describing the terrible conditions at the prison in Ahvaz where he was being held, it was reported Friday that he and 25 other political prisoners have been transferred to another prison where conditions are better. The 26 prisoners are the facility's only inmates.

On Thursday evening, Tehran time, security agents raided the home of leading reformist Behzad Nabavi, who is currently imprisoned. They took away his books, documents, and computers. Nabavi, 70, was arrested the day after the 2009 presidential election and is serving a five-year jail sentence.

All the female political prisoners in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj have been transferred to a prison in Gharchak, a town about 12 miles southeast of Tehran. The prison has been dubbed "the second Kahrizak," a reference to the detention center on the southern edge of Tehran where hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were detained in the aftermath of the 2009 election and at least four university students were murdered. The prisoners have told their families that their food and even drinking water are not given to them on time, and when they protest they are beaten by the prison guards. They have said that the prison is more like a "chicken farm" and if they are not transferred elsewhere, they will go on hunger strike. It has been reported that the female political prisoners in Tehran's Evin Prison will also be transferred to Gharchak.

Jailed labor leader Mansour Osanloo has been moved from Rajaei Shahr Prison to a hospital. Osanloo has been suffering from a serious heart disease for some time. On the occasion of International Workers' Day, May 1, Osanloo wrote a letter in which he described his poor health, as well as the inhumane pressure put on him and his cellmates by prison officials. Osanloo was arrested in July 2007 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

Isa Zarepour, head of the information technology and Internet mass media division in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, said that the government spends $20 million annually on the blocking of websites. He also claimed that every day the laws governing Internet usage are violated 3,000 times.

***

Rasha Elass, our Middle East news editor, has compiled the following news items from the Arabic press about Syria:

21 Dead in Friday Clashes | Al Jazeera Arabic

Clashes on Friday between security forces and thousands of anti-government demonstrators resulted in 21 fatalities. The demonstrators demanded an end to the siege on Daraa and chanted anti-regime slogans.

5 Government Personnel Dead in Clashes | Official Syrian News Agency SANA

"An armed criminal unit" opened fire at a government checkpoint in Hums, killing one soldier and four policemen. (The Syrian government claims that armed insurgents are behind the unrest that began to unravel in Syria two months ago. According to international organizations, 100 army and police personnel have been killed so far in the unrest, in addition to 580 civilians.)

Syria Releases Dozens of Demonstrators | SANA

Authorities released 192 demonstrators who "turned themselves in" during a government announced amnesty period. They were released "immediately upon promising not to undermine the nation's security."

According to the report, a total of 553 demonstrators have turned themselves in so far.

The amnesty announcement reached out to "anyone who was seduced into being a part of, or broke the law by, carrying weapons or undermining security or participating in false reporting" to turn themselves in. It also called on them to "reveal the names of saboteurs and the places of any weapons caches" with the promise that they will be promptly released. The amnesty period is from May 2 through May 15.

Assad Arming Alwaite Villagers | al Sharq al Awsat

The Assad regime is arming Alawite villagers "in an attempt to exploit fear of sectarian warfare," according to an analysis report by this London based Arabic daily that cites news
from Reuters and eye witness accounts.

Alawites are a minority Shiite group to which many in the Assad regime belong.

Syria Telecom Breaks with Al Jazeera | al Sharq al Awsat

Syria's main telecom company Syriatel cancelled its contract with Al Jazeera, preventing hundreds of thousands of subscribers from receiving updated news by text message from the Qatar based news channel.

Syria accused al Jazeera of "becoming part of the hostile media campaign that is targeting the peace and security of our nation and society."

In a separate incident, an Al Jazeera correspondent has been missing in Syria since Friday with no official comment from the Syrian authorities on her whereabouts.

Opinion | al Hayat

The fact that the insurgency in Syria began in Daraa means it is as organic and grassroots as can be. In retrospect, the southern town was the most logical place for the Syrian revolution to debut.

If unrest had begun in the northern Kurdish area, the authorities would have crushed it quickly, saying the Kurds want to secede from Syria.

Similarly, if it were Hama, where Assad senior brutally crushed an Islamist uprising in the eighties, the authorities today would have accused the Muslim Brotherhood and justified using the same brutal tactics of the past.

Damascus and Aleppo were always out of the question as a starting place for the revolution because they are heavily guarded. "So therefore the revolution began in the most logical place, which is Daraa," said Radwan Ziadeh, a visiting fellow at the George Washington University.

And the youth leading this revolution are a step ahead of the government, which tries to label them as "traitors and collaborators."

"The Syrian authorities accuse all dissenters of collaborating with Israel or the United States, of being traitors. In response, the demonstrators now carry signs that say 'The Traitor is He Who Kills His Own People,'" said Ziadeh. "These tactics no doubt neutralize the official political and media campaigns."

The writer also points out that many messages of dissent posted on Facebook and Twitter refer to themselves facetiously as "collaborator."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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