Rising Iranian Clerical Unease Over Electoral Dispute

Today’s remarks by an Iranian grand ayatollah may indicate the emergence of a split between the revolution’s two conservative factions: the first generation clergy led by Khamenei and second generation “neo-con” national security faction led by Ahmadinejad.

Iran’s English-language PressTV has published a statement by Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi calling for settlement of the presidential election dispute through “national conciliation” and describing the dispute as having “caused deep regret and sorrow in all Iranians loyal to the Islamic establishment and the revolution….”

He went on to note that “the problems must be solved through legal means,” a statement that would appear both to caution against street protests and to support calls by the opposition to investigate alleged irregularities. Seeming to emphasize this support for opposition position, he added that “definitively, something must be done to ensure that there are no embers burning under the ashes, and (to ensure) that hostilities, antagonism and rivalries are transformed into amity and cooperation among all parties.”

According to the press report, “He called on rival parties to show self-restraint, to resolve the problems rationally and to bear in mind the future of the country,” further implying a warning against any possible illegal coup attempts by the national security agencies.

Described in the report as a “highly revered Islamic jurist with a large number of followers,” Makarem-Shirazi is a widely published religious theorist and revolutionary activist from the Shah’s era, now retired from government. A very strict conservative, he issued a fatwa opposing Ahmadinejad’s effort to allow women to attend soccer matches, opposed a moderate attitude toward smoking evoked by Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani, and has strongly supported both the compulsory wearing of the hijab and enforcement of religious rules by the Iranian morality police, and in August 2006 reacted to Israel’s vicious onslaught into Lebanon by warning that Iran’s clergy might declare a “defensive jihad” against Israel. In 2008, he was one of three ayatollahs who criticized Ahmadinejad’s economic policies.

Makarem-Shirazi’s remarks follow by only two days the outspoken criticism of the election by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who said “no one in their right mind can believe” the results. But Montazeri, a political gadfly, is, by grand ayatollah standards, a liberal with a record of supporting civil rights who was forced out of government by Khomenei. Makarem-Shirazi is much more of an insider so his more neutral remarks may nevertheless constitute a more significant sign of clerical ambivalence toward Ahmadinejad.

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