Home » Iran, the regime threatened not only by the protests of young people: even among the religious hierarchies a rift has opened

Iran, the regime threatened not only by the protests of young people: even among the religious hierarchies a rift has opened

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Iran, the regime threatened not only by the protests of young people: even among the religious hierarchies a rift has opened

Last July 16, after having almost disappeared from the streets for a few months, the patrols of the “police morale” were officially reintroduced in Iran. It is not clear why it happened in this period: someone has speculated that the reason lies in the imminence of Ashura celebrationsthe Shiite celebration largely sponsored by the authorities, during which the assassination of the‘Imam Husseinscheduled for July 27 this year. Definitely, two months from the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Aminithe dialectic of conflict – sometimes latent, sometimes explicit – between the authorities and a significant part of the country, highly educated and fully inserted in the processes of globalization, is now a fact.

However, it would be misleading to believe that the main power groups of the Islamic Republic have to deal “only” with the discontent of a large segment of the population which claims in particular the libertarian, secular, or even “Westernized” dimension of its political aspirations. There crisis of legitimacy of a system that has entered its fifth decade of life, in fact, is declined on different sides, in some cases opposite. This had already been seen in the most intense weeks of protest, when those carried out by urbanized and educated young people from big cities alternated with the protests of the proletariat of medium and medium-large centres, linked to large industries, or those of ethnic minorities in the border.

Now, among the government critics conservative in orientation, there are also some of his staunchest supporters. Perhaps we should even say “propagandists”, if it is true that the “reciters of Shiite praises” – that is, the performers who lead the choreographies, the Shiite processions and the singing and political-religious demonstrations organized by the regime – have always celebrated the same, not rarely being chosen and also used as dialectical “standard bearers” against the reformists, but also against the last government of Hassan Rouhani and the nuclear deal. One of them, Hassan Kordmihan, he had even been among the leaders of the crowd of “hooligans” who had attacked the Saudi diplomatic offices in 2016 (precisely to sabotage Rouhani’s agenda and ruin his reputation, ed). They are practically all conservative and ultra-conservative in orientation.

Since the beginning of 2022 protestshowever, even in this small but mighty realm of diligent and passionate reciters seems to have opened a hole. First the famous Iraqi actor Bassem Karbalaei was attacked after he had arrived at the same evening insult Khamenei during his eulogy. Then, starting in April, one after another, several of his colleagues took it hard, and totally unreleasedcriticized the work of the government which until recently they supported more blatantly than anyone else. Hamid A scientistan actor who had also challenged Rouhani, attacked the president Ebrahim Chairman during one of his performances, and has since been repeatedly prevented from performing; Mahmoud Karimia very rich man and one of the most active against the former Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarifwas warned against singing a passage from a letter that Ali ibn Abi Talib wrote to the then governor of Egypt, urging him to treat the population justly; among critics of the government also Reza Narimani e Hossein Ansaria.

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Since 2018, then, there is also a Grand Ayatollah of Qom who is being watched with growing apprehension by the hawks of the Republic. His name is Javad Alavi Bourujerdi. He is 72 years old and is the nephew of another famous ayatollah, Hossein Tabatabae’i Bourujerdi, to which he is also linked by a double irony of fate: in fact, on the one hand, he was among the protagonists of the growth of the Qom seminary – which in 1980 will culminate in making it the de facto “political-spiritual headquarters” of the newborn Islamic Republic -, always keeping out of politics, unlike the father of the revolution, Khomeini; on the other, according to historians such as Roy Mottahedeh, Tabatabae’i he was “the only marja-e taqlid in the entire Shia world from 1945 to his death in 1961″. Marja-e taqlid in the Twelver Shiite “jargon” it means “source of emulation”, and it is an “honorary” qualification attributed to very few ayatollahs.

The theme of “attribution” is delicate and central: firstly because the break by Ayatollah Javad Alavi Bourujerdi with some high religious spheres of the regime first manifested itself 5 years ago, when the latter, after publishing his Towzih al-masa’il (a manual of comments on the legal pronouncements of previous marjas), proclaimed himself “Marja-e Taqlid”, annoying Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, former head of the judiciary and former president of the Assembly of Experts, today head of the Society of Seminary teachers from Qom, the city where Bourujerdi also teaches.

Secondly, related to the first, it should be remembered that according to the Shia tradition, a marja-e taqlid he could neither be elected nor nominated by anyone. After completing legal and theological studies and having received from at least two other marjas a sort of “certification” for the use of ijtihad (the ability to elaborate religious edicts by interpreting legal sources), traditionally the transformation into marja-e taqlid has always happened by “measuring” popularity, in a sense by acclamation: it is the Shiite faithful who are called to individually choose their own marja, and it is their numerical scope that makes that ayatollah entitled to the qualification, sometimes with the formal collective request to publish a text with ex novo pronouncements on the life of the Muslim.

From the Revolution islamicHowever, some things have changed, even in a paradoxical way. The same Society of Teachers of the Seminary of Qom, very close to the establishment, has tried since the 80s to intervene on the issue, inserting criteria for the co-optation of the marja. In 1994, he even released an official list of seven (today eight, ed) “credible” marja-e taqlid, somehow interfering with the custom and the “sacred” right of the faithful to choose a marja, as well as with that of the marja to be recognized as such only by a consistent audience of faithful, which also has the important function of financing it through donationsthus increasing its power. In the early 2000s, he forced any Ayatollah intending to publish his Towzih al masa’il to ask for his permission.

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Not surprising, therefore, the anger which Ayatollah Yazdi addressed to Bourujerdi after the latter decided to publish it anyway, while continuing to be very active on social media. “If he opens an office, I will personally take down the sign. As long as I live, I will prevent anyone from proclaiming themselves a marja,” Yazdi commented. It goes without saying that today in Iran the recognized marja-e taqlid are many more than the eight officers.

There are merit reasons, for which Bourujerdi’s move has triggered a wave of anxiety in the establishment. There is his unusual (for clerics in Iran) ease in celebrating the pre-Islamic past of Iran, and particularly of the founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Greatand of its “cylinder”, considered the first real declaration on human rights; there is his openness towards the Baha’is (according to estimates around 300 thousand in Iran), who are widely discriminated against by the authorities and considered a sect which serves as a recruitment pool for agents of the Mossad; his explicit support for the JCPOA, the nuclear deal (which he believed would have the beneficial effect of “separating the United States and Europe”); its ability to attract the younger age group – notoriously more and more distant from the religious – because of the ability to use different registersto master and interact in cyberspace (defined as a “golden opportunity”, which “it makes no sense to restrict as is done in Russia and China”) and to take on much softer positions than many of his colleagues on various issues, not least those of the obligatory veil (“true faith should not be defined by appearances”) and one greater secularism of the systeminsisting for example on the need to rely on the technicians in subjects such as the economy, and less to those with religious requirements.

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There is his clear position with respect to the repression of protests – “these people they must be listened tothe newspapers left free to write, should be on state television different opinions” – and there is, in particular, his political planning. As the analyst recalls Ruhollah Faghighi, in 2003 a group dubbed “Meeting of the professors of the Qom seminary” was formed in Qom, with the mission of realizing “the independence of the seminary from politics, from a financial and intellectual point of view”. Almost 80% of the teachers joined, despite the criticisms of those closest to the regime, and among these there was also Bourujerdi, who later assumed a prominent position within the same group. “He has many advantages, such as his independence and the support he expresses for people’s rights”, a cleric from Qom confided to Middle East Eye, “while many of the other ayatollahs are silent or act in collusion with the government. This damages both Islam and the seminary”.

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