Religious groups and leaders may represent the strongest challenge to President Ahmadinejad’s leadership since the popular uprisings of last summer went underground after government crackdowns, reports The Tablet magazine (Oct.17).
Ahmadinejad’s increasingly authoritarian rule is helping to “forge an unlikely but powerful alliance between orthodox mullahs and secular democrats,” writes Edward Stourton. There is increasing concern among Iran’s clerics and theologians about Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic beliefs involving the return of the “hidden imam,” a messiah-type figure in Shia Islam who, in the president’s view, could return after a period of world turmoil. The president’s millennialism has a strong anticlerical edge: the proportion of clerics in jail today is higher than the proportion from any other social category. While these tensions have been simmering for a while, behind much of the concerns is a more fundamental questioning of the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic itself.
Ever since Ayatollah Khomeini founded the Islamic state, mainstream Shia theologians have questioned whether it is permitted to set up a theocracy without the Hidden Imam doing so himself. It is a similar argument to ultraOrthodox anti-Zionist Jews arguing that only the Messiah can create the Jewish state of Israel. This view’s “high-profile adherents include no less a figure than the Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Sistani, generally seen as the leading Shia religious authority.”
This concern, taken together with the clerics’ fear that Ahmadinejad’s suppression of the democratic movement last summer is tarnishing the image of Islam, could solidify the new alliance between the clerics and the secular democratic movement. Stourton concludes that there are in fact already signs “that it is beginning to take shape.”
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)