Montazeri Speaks, Iran Listens

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 17, 2009

Behold the Wikipedia entry for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. As you can tell, he is an important person. Were it not for the fact that he was disgusted and appalled by the degree to which Ruhollah Khomeini drenched his hands and the regime he created in blood, and were it not for the fact that he spoke out against Khomeini, he would be the Supreme Leader today.

Montazeri is persona non grata, as far as the Islamic regime is concerned. But he is still a figure of tremendous importance in Iran. And now, he is speaking out against the hardliners:

Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main rival in the disputed presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, massed in competing rallies Tuesday as the country’s most senior Islamic cleric threw his weight behind opposition charges that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was rigged.

“No one in their right mind can believe” the official results from Friday’s contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime of handling Mousavi’s charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers “in the worst way possible.”

“A government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy,” he declared in comments on his official Web site. “I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to ‘sell their religion,’ and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God.”

Let’s just say this is kind of a big deal, shall we? Because, after all, we are justified in saying so. Montazeri is the E.F. Hutton of the clergy; when he speaks, people listen. His condemnation of the actions of the regime is tremendously consequential.

But of course, you don’t have to take my word for it:

Montazeri’s pointed public comments provided fresh evidence that a serious rift has opened at the top of Iran’s powerful religious hierarchy after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei endorsed the official election results and the harsh crackdown against the opposition.

A leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution who’s often feuded with Khamenei and once vied with him for the supreme leader’s position, Montazeri accused the government of attacking “the children of the people with astonishing violence” and “attempting a purge, arresting intellectuals, political opponents and scientifics.”

“He is questioning the legitimacy of the election and also questioning the legitimacy of (Khamenei’s) leadership, and this is the heart of the political battle in Iran,” said Mehdi Noorbaksh, an associate professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania. “This is very significant. This is huge support for Mousavi and the demonstrators on the reformists’ side.”

Montazeri’s full statement is provided to us by John McCormack.

Dare I hope that Iran’s nightmare will soon be over? I have been disappointed so many times, that it seems almost foolish to feel optimistic.

And yet . . .

Read more at Pejman Yousefzadeh’s blog.

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