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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The action ain't in Tehran

Remember, remember. It's in Qom.

One of the country’s most influential clerics, Mr. Rafsanjani has been notably silent since Mr. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner last week, and there has been speculation that Mr. Rafsanjani is in Qum trying to muster clerical opposition to the country’s leaders. But those reports are difficult to confirm with any authority. [...]

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who defeated Mr. Rafsanjani in the 2005 presidential vote, accused Mr. Rafsanjani’s clan and at least one other prominent cleric during the campaign of being corrupt.

Those allegations prompted an open letter from 36 religious scholars, including some noted hard-liners, criticizing the incumbent for his attacks on senior mullahs, said Shahram Kholdi, a teaching fellow at the University of Manchester, in Britain. The way the government handles the public ire could be a further step toward alienating the clergy.

“If the clergy become Khamenei’s enemy, just think about it,” Mr. Kholdi said. “The shah made Qum his enemy, and they did not cease to plot against him until he was overthrown.” [...]

Another statement issued from Qum, by the Society of the Scholars and the Researchers of the Howzeh — the name for the entire seminary system — condemned the violent attacks against students at Tehran University carried out by the government-organized Basij vigilantes, Mr. Kholdi said.

Of course, mullahs run the political gamut, from those who think Islam should get out of politics to those who think the rulers are divinely guided and should just eliminate elections altogether. The supreme leader has also gained the loyalty of thousands of seminary students by doling out generous government subsidies, so it is unclear what it might take for them to oppose him.

Analysts suspect that Mr. Rafsanjani’s message to the rest of the religious establishment is that it is about to be eclipsed by the military, which supports the government.

The risk for the supreme leader and Mr. Ahmadinejad if the mullahs shift away from them is that the idea that the government carries an Islamic stamp of approval will be undermined.

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