Montazeri: Clerics Must Reject Iran’s ‘Military Regime’

Borzou Daragahi reports on Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri’s latest broadside against the Iranian regime, in which the country’s most prominent clerical dissident called on “senior Shiite Muslim clergy in the Iranian holy cities of Qom and Mashhad as well as the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf and beyond to speak out against the regime.”

In a statement issued today, [Montazeri] said that Iran had become a “military regime” not the Islamic government envisioned at time of the 1979 revolution.

He said it was his fellow clergymen’s “religious duty” to speak out against the the government’s abuses.

“We didn’t want a mere change in title and slogans while the same oppressions and violations of rights continue under the cover of Islamic government,” he said in the statement posted to his website.

The extent of clerical condemnation of the regime’s behavior in the wake of the June presidential elections, which have seriously undermined the government’s claims to uphold just Islamic principles, has been one of the most interesting and important aspects of the protests. Back in July, I spoke with Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, who stressed how significant it was, both in religious and constitutional terms, that “leading clerics have taken sides with the Green movement.” Because of Supreme Leader Khamenei’s relatively meager scholarly credentials, Dabashi said, he “is not even in position to prevent [other clerics] from passing judgment.” “Khamenei’s official position as Supreme Leader has no bearing on his junior position as a jurist,” said Dabashi. “He’s not in a position to disallow the clerical challenge to his authority.”

A key challenge for the Obama administration as it moves forward with its Iran engagement policy is how to create the political space for Iranians to continue to contest the regime while at the same time addressing the more immediate problems of Iran’s nuclear program and support for terrorism.