NewsSpecial WireIran’s defeated reformists pin hope on dissident ayatollah

Iran’s defeated reformists pin hope on dissident ayatollah

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Iran Focus: Paris, Aug. 25 – A simple Islamic wedding party, with male guests in one hall and women in a separate wing, turned into a powwow for Iran’s dispirited reformists, who are still in the throes of confusion and despair after a crushing defeat in last June’s presidential election. Iran Focus

Paris, Aug. 25 – A simple Islamic wedding party, with male guests in one hall and women in a separate wing, turned into a powwow for Iran’s dispirited reformists, who are still in the throes of confusion and despair after a crushing defeat in last June’s presidential election.

The names of men in the wedding read like a Who’s Who of the reformist faction, beginning with ex-President Mohammad Khatami himself. Many of Khatami’s ministers and allies, including ex-Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karrubi, were present.

The bride was the daughter of Serajeddin Moussavi, a mid-ranking Shiite cleric who was a top official in Ayatollah Khomeini’s office and commander of his bodyguards. In the 1980s, Moussavi was commander in chief of the Islamic revolutionary komitehs, which later formed the core of the country’s police force. In recent years, he was Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan.

But it was the groom’s parentage that was of greatest interest to the elderly guests, many of them donning the white or black turbans of Shiite clergymen. The groom was the grandson of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, the man once designated as the official successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but who later fell from grace. From the mid-1980s onwards, Montazeri angered the founder of the Islamic Republic with his consistent protests over human rights abuses, particularly the massacre of several thousand political prisoners in 1988 on the basis of a fatwa, or religious decree, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini.

The groom’s father, Hadi Hashemi, also a cleric, was the chief of staff of Ayatollah Montazeri and ran his office in the city of Qom, south of Tehran. When tensions between Ayatollah Montazeri and his powerful mentor escalated in 1987, Hadi Hashemi and his brother, Mehdi, were arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the secret police. Mehdi Hashemi was executed later that year on charges of seditious activities against the Islamic Republic.

The political firestorm finally led to the dismissal of Montazeri as Khomeini’s designated successor, a move that opened the way for a much lower-ranking cleric, Ali Khamenei, to succeed Khomeini as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution after the patriarch’s death in June 1989.

Since then, Montazeri has used religious occasions to criticise the current state of affairs in Iran, particularly the vast powers invested in the Supreme Leader. He was later placed under house arrest and was disowned by all the leading figures in the clerical regime. No one in the senior ranks of the clergy-dominated government paid a visit to Montazeri, or associated himself in any way with his name.

All this made the presence of senior figures such as Khatami, Karrubi, and several newly-ousted government ministers in the wedding ceremony of Montazeri’s grandson all the more surprising.

More strikingly, one of the guests, Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a former senior aide to Khatami and himself a cleric, posted on his website a photograph showing Khatami and Karrubi sitting next to Montazeri’s son, Ahmad, in the wedding.

“The wedding had the scent of Ayatollah Montazeri”, Abtahi wrote. “Lots of people who rarely see each other renewed greetings”.

Pundits see the cryptic manoeuvring over the wedding as a bid by Khatami and his allies to enlist the support of the elderly ayatollah in the face of the ultra-conservative faction’s apparent determination to rout its rivals within the clerical regime.

“By bringing Mr. Montazeri into the picture, the reformists want to tell Mr. Khamenei not to push them too much, or they would go over the red line”, Ian Taylor, a Persian Gulf political analyst, said in a telephone interview from his home in London. “But I’d be very sceptical as to how much weight this threat carries”.

Others share the view that the “insider reformists” – as some call the Khatami faction – are showing all the signs of a spent force with little prospects of recovery.

“They are in complete disarray and total despair”, said Ali Hajilou, an Iranian affairs analyst based in Dubai, of the reformists around the ex-President. “There’s endless bickering among them over who to blame for their political demise, and many of them are already defecting to other factions or retiring from politics altogether”.

Ayatollah Khamenei and his omnipresent security services are undoubtedly keeping a close eye on the latest moves by their rivals, but show no sign of being worried by them. Khamenei seemed to be aiming at his critics within the clerical regime when he told a meeting of ultra-Islamist Bassijis in Tehran on Wednesday that “the Americans are using political and cultural tools and their stooges to change the identity of the Islamic Republic, but America will receive its biggest defeat from the Bassijis”.

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