Iran’s Clerics

Saturday’s world-wide, coordinated protests against Iran’s election results, along with President Ahmadinejad’s week of difficulties in presenting a coherent and believable cabinet, have kept the spotlight on the Islamic Republic’s question of legitimacy and what minimal level it needs to keep functioning as such.  So it is interesting to watch the response of the religious clerics in Iran and to try to guage how much power they really have over politics. Rafsanjani, former president, powerful cleric, made big headline waves with his speech on July 17th which seemed to criticize the supreme Ayatollah Khamenei, although Rafsanjani has been working hard this week to signal that he is not putting Khamenei or the Islamic Republic in doubt, just discussing an electoral issue (see aljazeera article). Although he used a Friday prayer sermon to deliver the message it is unclear how much his status as religious leader gives him any bargaining power over the decisions made by Khamenei. It appears that the same question can be posed of the group of 9 highest ranking clerics, of whom, the New York Times reported this week (see article), 3 have openly protested the post-election results and only 1 has actually congratulated the election winner, Ahmadinejad. In the weeks since the final results of the election were posted, it has often been said that real change in Iran will have to come from the inside, and through deft use of the republic’s religious and clerical language. Some clerics are now publically doing just that, but the power which that language and symbolic status bestows upon them to affect change is still to be seen.