Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Move to Defrock Dissident Ayatollah Opens Rifts in Theocracy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Move to Defrock Dissident Ayatollah Opens Rifts in Theocracy

Article excerpt

Iran said Saturday that the edicts of Ayatollah Yusuf Sanei were no longer religiously binding. The mandate has sparked serious disputes among clerical groups.

The decision to defrock a dissident ayatollah - widely considered

to wear the mantle of spiritual leader of the opposition - has

pried open conflicts within the Islamic Republic's religious core.

The Qom Theological Lecturers Association, a regime-aligned grouping

of clerics, mandated Saturday that Ayatollah Yusuf Sanei's edicts

are no longer religiously binding. The ruling was furiously disputed

by the rival Association of the Lecturers and Scholars of Qom

Theological Seminary and the Association of Combatant Clerics.

"It'll be tough work [defrocking Sanei]," says Nicola Pedde,

director of the Rome-based Institute for Global Studies and a

frequent visitor to Iran. "It'll provoke a massive movement from

the clerical side and, possibly, totally and completely religiously

delegitimize the regime."

The crucial background struggle waged by the government and

opposition supporters over religious legitimacy has taken backstage

to the high-profile coverage of street-level political and social

tensions. But the religious dimension is crucial in an Islamic

Republic, where it is customary for members of the majority Shiite

Muslim population to select an ayatollah as a religious and social

object of emulation and donate to him a fifth of their income.

Maintaining legitimacy by controlling clerical networksThe Islamic

Republic has safeguarded its religious legitimacy in the past 30

years by extending its authority over disparate clerical networks. It

has done this through lavishly funding deferential clerics, while

arresting or intimidating challengers.

"With the exception of Ayatollah Nuri Hamedani, who is strongly in

favor of the regime, all the objects of emulation are unhappy,"

said an Iranian political analyst, speaking on the phone from the

seminary city of Qom. "With the exception of [Ayatollahs] Sanei and

Mousavi-Ardebili, who issue anti-regime proclamations, the

conservative clerics remain silent, even though they oppose the

regime."

"The Shiite theocracy in its present form has failed," said

dissident Ayatollah Mohsen Kadivar in a December interview with

German magazine Der Spiegel. …

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