Khamenei's defiance: An attempt to hide deep divisions
Khamenei's stance may be defiant in the face of international sanctions, but he's having difficulties persuading his fellow clerics of it

Reuters

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to his supporters during his meeting with students in Tehran November 2, 2011.

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  • For the untrained eye, there is nothing unusual about Ayatollah Khamenei’s visit to Iran’s Khorasan province. @Alfoneh

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  • Members of the clergy are reaching out to Ayatollah Khamenei to give up his nuclear ambitions. @Alfoneh

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  • Khamenei's may be defiant in the face of international sanctions, but he's having difficulty persuading fellow clerics.

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Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is touring Khorasan province in North Eastern Iran, and with the ayatollah being a native of Mashhad, the state propaganda machinery is reporting the homecoming as the return of the promised Messiah.

For the untrained eye, there is nothing unusual about the visit: Khamenei’s defiant speech; “spontaneous rallies” of schoolchildren herded into the streets; public servants with no choice but to cheer him; and the media circus all follow the usual and predictable pattern of Khamenei’s earlier visits. But there is also a difference: Khamenei’s choice of theme.

On Thursday October 11th, Khamenei, addressing an assembly of clerics and theologians, discussed the issue of separation between organized religion and state and stressed:

“The clergy and theological seminaries are the soldiers of this regime and can never consider themselves as separate from the Islamic regime... Theological seminaries can't be secular and indifferent towards the Islamic regime... At a time when the intelligence services of the enemies of the regime - be it the United states, Britain, and the Zionist regime - are trying to suggest that there is separation between the clergy and the regime - no cleric can consider himself as separate from the Islamic regime...”

The religious foundation of the Islamic Republic being enshrined in the constitution, one wonders why Khamenei felt compelled to stress the principle of non-separation when addressing fellow clerics? The answer may be found in the second part of Khamenei’s speech:

“In the Battle of Ahzab [Battle of the Confederates, also known as Ghazwah al-Khandaq, the Battle of the Trench, in which the Prophet Muhammad defended the city of Medina against Arab and Jewish tribes] there were a number of hypocrites weak in the faith who would chide the believers and lecture them: 'Why don't you back off, why don't you change your policy?' But the true companions of the Prophet would answer them: 'We are not amazed by the pressure, we don't fear and will continue our path.'”

Khamenei’s statement leaves little room for interpretation: As the Iranian public is suffering under the weight of the economic incompetence of their government, and the pressure of the international sanctions regime, members of the clergy are reaching out to Khamenei to give up his nuclear ambitions in return for removal of the sanctions.

Those clerics may also – in an attempt to exonerate the Shi’a faith from the failures of the regime – have tried to dissociate themselves from the state, which forced Khamenei to make the principle of non-separation the main theme of the address. Such a separation may save the Shi’a faith, but would deal a heavy blow to the religious legitimacy of the state and Khamenei’s leadership.

Khamenei’s answer was defiant: “The pressure will continue as long as one does not bow the head in front of the wishes of the enemies. The only way of not being impacted by the pressure is gaining strength in different fields,” but he seems to have difficulties persuading his fellow clerics of it.

Ali Alfoneh is a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Follow him on Twitter: @Alfoneh

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About the Author

 

Ali
Alfoneh
  • Ali Alfoneh's research areas include civil-military relations in Iran with a special focus on the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Islamic Republic. Mr. Alfoneh has been a research fellow at the Institute for Strategy at the Royal Danish Defence College and has taught political economy at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Southern Denmark.

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