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Iran’s house of cards teeters on the brink
Iran’s clerics are facing a crisis of legitimacy that could see the end of the Islamic Republic in its current form, says Trends magazine.
March 8, 2010 5:18 by Iason Athanasiadis
Though Khamenei arguably wields the most political power of any Shiite marja, his religious credentials are not as impressive. “The system of marja [singular of marajeh] is very informal,” said Siavush Randjbar Daemi, an analyst and doctoral candidate in contemporary Iranian history at London University. “Khamenei has attempted to place it under the state’s glass bell and rationalize it, a little like a lieutenant trying to get disorderly generals in order.”
The Islamic Republic has safeguarded its religious legitimacy in the past thirty years by extending its authority over disparate clerical networks. It lavishly funds deferential clerics while arresting or intimidating those who challenge its rule.
“Khamenei always had this weakness as Rahbar [Supreme Leader] that he lacked support in the seminaries,” said Randjbar-Daemi.
“Now it’s worse than ever, with Grand Ayatollah Dastgheib in Shiraz, for example, practically on a war footing with him.”
Dastgheib has announced that regime-controlled mosques in Shiraz are invalid for performing prayers, a considerable blow to a regime that defines itself as protecting Islam.
Some methods of defying the Islamic Republic include refusing to deliver the Islamic Republic-mandated agenda-setting weekly sermon at Friday prayers, disputing the Supreme Leader’s choice of the day on which Ramadan ends, or removing themselves from Iran to other Shiite clerical centres such as Iraq’s Najaf or Pakistan’s Multan in self-imposed exile.
The crucial background struggle waged by the government and opposition supporters over religious legitimacy has taken a back seat to the high-profile coverage accorded to street-level political and social tensions. But the religious dimension is crucial in an Islamic Republic where it is customary for the majority Shiite Muslim demographic to select an Ayatollah as a religious and social object of emulation and donate to him a fifth of its income.
This can amount to millions of dollars in the case of the more popular sources of emulation. The debate is playing out against the backdrop of the declining social influence of the clerics.
“Paradoxically, ten years ago everyone in Iran was scared of the clerics,” said Nicola Pedde, director of the Rome-based Institute for Global Studies and a frequent visitor to Iran. “Now they in turn are scared of the pasdaran [Revolutionary Guardsmen] and the MOIS [Intelligence Ministry]”
“Those combatant clerics who self-promoted after the Revolution did nothing to replicate their activity and now that they are dying off, they realize there’s no generation to follow them.”