But that’s not what happened when Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i made a foray into the holy city:
If you’re skeptical of the recent coverage from Iranian government sources showing how enthusiastic crowds greeted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, on his recent trip to Qom, one of the theological centers of Shiite Islam, you should be.
Photos and film from IRNA, Iran’s state news agency, depict him meeting thousands of cheering admirers, arms waving with fervor. Last week, IRNA published a blizzard of stories running down Khamenei’s meetings with religious scholars and seminary students, all intended to send the message that the leader is not only firmly in charge of his country, but also revered as its highest religious authority.
But when one takes into consideration that many of those supporters were not spontaneously assembled masses, but rather basiji (members of the paid militia that is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the waving crowds are suddenly less impressive. True, Khamenei’s real mission was to secure the blessings of Qom’s top ayatollahs, and he did meet some important ones: Loftollah Safi Golpayegani, Hossein Nuri Hamadani, Mohammed Hosseini Shahroudi, Naser Makarem Shirazi, and Mousa Shobeiri Zanjani.
But the most senior and influential grand ayatollahs stayed away in droves. Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili, Bayat Asadullah, Hossein Vahid-Khorasani, Mohammad, Muhammad Ali Gerami Qomi, Sadegh Rouhani, Yusef Sanei, and Seyed Hosseini Shirazi, among others, would not meet with Khamenei. One press account by the Tabnak website, closely associated with former Islamic Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai, noted that Khamenei met with the children of prominent cleric and Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid-Khorasani, but not with the ayatollah himself, a prominent critic. The supreme leader — a man who rose to his exalted position through political hardball, not religious scholarship — had clearly hoped to shore up his shaky religious stature during his trip to Qom. Instead, he only showed just how isolated he has become.
If only we had an Administration prepared to take advantage of the fact that the leader of the Iranian regime’s religious stature is “shaky.” In any event, reading the whole thing is recommended for its insight into the machinations of Shi’ite clerical politics. I will refer readers to this piece as well.