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In Ali Montazeri's death, Iran's elite face a dilemma of action



The death on Sunday, of Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, has provoked a new wave of opposition towards the Iranian Government. Hossein Ali Montazeri, a man who was central to the formation of the Iranian Theocracy and was once accorded great respect from the Iranian clerical elite, had in recent years, grown increasingly detached from the hard liners in power. Ali Montazeri's arguments that the regime was insufficiently concerned with respecting human rights and that the clerics had adopted an overly aggressive foreign policy, moved him into a position of measured but significant accord with Iran's democracy/human rights opposition movements. This disconnect reached a climax in the aftermath of the June 2009 Iranian elections, when Ali Montazeri posted a scathing critique of the government's reaction to the protests that followed the election's disputed results.

As a result of this dynamic, with Ali Montazeri's death, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Kahmenei, and President Ahmadinejad faced a dilemma. How to effectively balance the political need to celebrate Ali Motazeri's role in helping to create the Islamic Republic of Iran, with the political temptation to challenge his departure from their orthodoxy? The response as issued yesterday, was less than wholly effective. While Ayatollah Khamenei did complement Ali Montazeri in part, he also condemned the late cleric's government critiques. In doing so, Kahmenei ignited protests among supporters of the Iranian human rights movement, who once again brought large numbers of people out onto the streets. These protesters clashed with the Basij, the government's ideological militia, who regularly attack protestors that dare to challenge the 'official line'.

Although the protests that followed Ali Montazeri's funeral are not symbiotic of an imminent and larger revolutionary dynamic developing inside Iran, they do represent the increasing frustration of many Iranians with the totalitarian nature of their government's rule.  Ruling over a population that is proportionally, extremely young and via the internet, has an ever increasingly connectivity to Western political and cultural discourses, the Iranian clerical elite face a growing challenge in the form of Iranian opposition movements. If  these opposition groups unify together and further draw out the support of relative religious moderates like Ali Montazeri and the still active Mir Hossein Moussavi, then, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad will have troubling days ahead.

Photo Source _ AP