Published in German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” on 6 August 2010
The West is fascinated by an alleged attack on president Ahmadinejad. However, the regime around Ahmadinejad and Khamenei has – by far – bigger problems.
A commentary by R. Chimelli
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is around, a firecracker is enough to raise suspicions about a plot. And although Iran is technologically years away from a nuclear bomb – which would be anything else than a firecracker – opinion leaders in the West are equally fascinated by this one topic.
The main problem area for the Islamic Republic, however, is its crisis of legitimacy – not just since the last summer, when the protests against the president’s reelection were broken up violently. The regime may destroy all clinical thermometers, but it cannot lower the patient’s temperature.
Besides all political problems, the data show that the majority of Iran’s 75 million population are not prospering. Unemployment and inflation have reached two-digit numbers. The average life expectation has fallen by six years since the revolution. One third of all marriages are divorced, even on the countryside, where in former times separations hardly occurred. The number of drug addicts is estimated at around 4.5 million, although many drug dealers are executed as a means to intimidate the population.
The opposition movement has lost the battle on the streets. Organized demonstrations do not come about, because police, militia and thug forces are too powerful, and – maybe more importantly – because of the horrible accounts of torture and illegal detention centers, given by those arrested during the protests. Censorship has never been as repressive as today and reaches out to the print media as well as the internet. Iran’s most renowned journalists and its best-known student leader are currently on hunger strike in prison. Hardly noticed abroad, smaller or larger labor disputes are arising everywhere in the country. Union leaders like the head of Tehran’s bus driver union, Mansur Osanloo, have been jailed for several years.
Neither hearts nor minds have been won
Many Iranians are disappointed, but do not want to take risks and retire to private life. However, Ahmadinejad and the spiritual leader Khamenei could not win people’s hearts or minds. There is not a single renowned writer, artist or filmmaker who would take sides with the country’s rulers. The regime is creating a climate of intellectual poverty, and more and more leading clerics are turning their backs to the regime – sometimes so visibly that they are answered with violent attacks.
Recently, hooligans devastated the house of Grand Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, who once said that the Islamic Republic was as far away from Islam as moon from earth. “Death to all who oppose the rule of the jurist”, they screamed while executing their orders.
The rule of the Islamic jurist (velayat-e faghih) constitutes the highest principle of government. It places the Supreme Leader above all institutions of the so-called republic and makes him the absolute ruler. Fewer and fewer Iranians believe that Khamenei – a medium-ranked cleric without theological merits – is “just, pious, brave, adept, in line with the times and capable to run an administration”, as it is required by the constitution. His commitment to the president does not make things better.
There are only around 20 Grand Ayatollahs in the Shiite world. They are revered by their followers as “sources of emulation“ and have authority in all questions of faith and conduct. Only two of them were in favor of the leadership principle, which mixes religion and politics in an intolerable way. Other high-ranking clerics did not hold back with their opinion about this practice.
Before his arrest in 2006, Ayatollah Kazemeini Borujerdi called the Islamic Republic “a conspiration against God and all believers”. Years ago, Ayatollah Djalaleddin Taheri Khorramabadi spoke of a “rule of the corrupted, for the corrupted, by the corrupted”.
To be armed against criticism by more qualified clerics, Khamenei recently sought a fatwa from Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi – a cleric close to the regime – which confirms his sovereignty. According to this decree, even the Grand Ayatollahs must obey orders by the Supreme Leader, who is the highest religious authority and head of state in Iran. The fatwa was reinforced in a statement by Khamenei’s office: he is the representative of the hidden imam of the Shiites, and that of the prophet Mohammad. Khamenei has thus defined his role.
It is foreseeable that such theological absurdities are going to exacerbate the conflict with the Shiite clergy. For the majority of Iranians, who are still pious, the gap between faith and government has become larger. Yet the regime is not going to collapse, for a long time to come. Its hidden credo has long been the following: we hold the power and we want to keep it, including all privileges.
English translation kindly provided by Elli Mee