Iran: What the death of dissident cleric Montazeri means for opposition
In Iran, Hossein Ali Montazeri had the theological gravitas and political moxie to challenge Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His death now creates a rallying point for the opposition during this week's religious rituals.
Iran security forces and pro-government militants clashed sporadically with hundreds of thousands of reformist mourners at the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran’s top dissident cleric, on Monday.Skip to next paragraph
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The death of the grand ayatollah – a fearless critic for 20 years of the Islamic regime he helped to create – will be a blow to Iran’s opposition “Green Movement,” by silencing a supporting voice from one of the most high-ranking theologians in the Shiite world.
But Montazeri’s death – coming amid the most important religious event of the year, which commemorates resistance and martyrdom – is also problematic for the regime. It creates a powerful political rallying point that will bolster anti-regime sentiment and solidify the ranking cleric’s legacy.
The tensions over the death of an 87-year-old theologian get at the heart of the political and religious divide in Iran, where no one else has had both the theological gravitas and the sheer political moxie to challenge the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet the diminutive Montazeri did so, repeatedly, in keeping with a lifetime of challenging authoritarian rule as un-Islamic.
Montazeri called the disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “fraudulent,” and had “no religious or political legitimacy.” He said: “No one in their right mind” can believe the results.” He issued a number of statements after the vote, including that Iran’s Islamic Republic was “neither Islamic nor republic.”
During the 10-day religious ritual now under way, Shiite Muslims commemorate the 7th-century resistance and faith of their most important martyr, Imam Hossein. The seventh day of mourning for Montazeri will coincide with the peak of that commemoration, called Ashura – the anniversary of Hossein's death and a day on which Iran’s opposition “Green Movement” had long been planning to demonstrate their continued strength.
Son: Montazeri's grief over elections led to his death
“Dictator, Montazeri’s way will continue,” was one chant reported by opposition websites. Another chant: “Montazeri is not dead, it is the government which is dead.” Opposition websites estimated the turnout at hundreds of thousands – those numbers were also corroborated by a conservative website.
Protesters also vowed, “Innocent Montazeri, your path will be continued even if the dictator should rain bullets on our heads,” according to another reformist website, as translated by Reuters.
And mourners chanted another reformist rallying cry, “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein,” coined to combine the name of the 7th-century martyr as well as opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi who, according to official election results, lost to Ahmadinejad in June.
Mr. Mousavi, a former prime minister, and cleric Mehdi Karroubi, another opposition leader and former parliament speaker whose presidential bid was quashed in the official results, both made appearances in Qom to pay their respects.
Montazeri’s son Saeed was quoted on Sunday saying: “I think one of the main reasons [for his death] was his grief for the post-election events which troubled my father a lot,” according to a translation at enduringamerica.com.
Clashes on Monday erupted between reformist mourners pro-regime Basiji militiamen, who reportedly shouted: “Shame on you hypocrites, leave the city of Qom.” Iranian officials ordered journalists to play down the story; some received calls saying they would be arrested if they went to Qom.