Iran Faces Down Its Grand Ayatollahs

Iran Faces Down Its Grand Ayatollahs

For the past seven months, countless parallels have been drawn between the current uprising gripping Iran and the events that ultimately led to the demise of the Pahlavi monarchy some 30 years ago. Whether or not the comparisons are accurate, one irony that cannot be escaped is that the regime is facing increasingly vocal dissent from the very clerical class that brought it to power. In fact, as the Islamic Republic deviates more and more from its theocratic roots and transforms into a military dictatorship, it risks alienating the very marjas who have given it legitimacy since its inception.

Most of the criticism directed at the regime by Iran's clerics has thus far been relatively measured. But the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has prompted several prominent clerics to speak out more forcefully in support of the Green movement, if only to distance Shiite Islam from an increasingly repressive and desperate government.

In Shiraz, Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Mohammad Datsgheib has been especially vocal. Datsgheib first provoked the regime's ire back in September, when he criticized the 86-member Assembly of Experts (of which he is a member) for staying silent throughout the post-election crisis, and even questioned the validity of the office of supreme leader itself. In a later sermon, the prominent cleric went so far as to call Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a "traitor" and urged him to repent in order to "escape hell" after death.

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