Separation between the clergy and the Iranian state soon?

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Ardavan Amir-Aslani

The Islamic Republic, established in 1979, later derived its legitimacy from two sources: popular expression through elections and the political and ideological influence of the Shia clerics. Since the disputed 2009 elections and the subsequent Green Movement, popular support for the regime has steadily declined. The record abstention rate recorded during the last presidential election in June 2021 confirmed that Iranians, regardless of their social class, gender, ethnicity or place of residence, realize that their votes are meaningless to influence their political and social orientation. their government. In fact, the Raisi administration was the worst elected and therefore the most illegitimate at the head of Iran in the last four decades. The “Women, Life, Freedom” Movement that has shaken the country for three months is a daily and violent translation of this massive and popular rejection. Therefore, this first pillar of the stability of the Islamic Republic is in the process of collapse, and the second pillar, which gives its legitimacy to the regime, is also in danger of cracking.

Criticism of the Iranian state by Shia clerics

Relatively silent at the beginning of the demonstrations in the fall of 2022, the Shia clerics are now openly criticizing the violence of the repression and, above all, the authorities’ failure to listen to the demands of the Iranian people. While some clerics have spoken out individually – for which they have been repressed by the regime – the criticism today appears to be collegial, coming from the Qom seminary, home to the country’s most respected Shiite authorities. This is rare enough to highlight because it marks the beginning of a split between the clergy and the Iranian state.

“This is rare enough to be highlighted because it marks the beginning of a break between the clerics and the Iranian state.”

The Iranian authorities’ radical turn in the face of the demonstrations, particularly the execution of Mohen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, both 23, contributed to this development. These two young men, who were arrested during the demonstrations and brought to the revolutionary court for attacking and killing members of the Bassic paramilitary forces in Tehran, were found guilty of the “maharaba” crime and were eventually hanged. The ambiguity of this Persian term, which varies in translation from “war against God” to “hatred against God” and “war against the state and God”, gives rise to various interpretations: does it mean blasphemy or even blasphemy? an act of gun violence? Moharebeh, which is included in Article 279 of the Iranian Criminal Code, refers to the fact of drawing a weapon with the aim of attacking the life, property or honor of the concerned persons, intimidating them or creating an atmosphere of insecurity. It is not necessary to go to the extent of murder to have Moharebeh wealth. It is enough to break a knife or a firearm. Mohsen Shakari was tried for this very reason. However, those found guilty carry the simpler term “enemy of God”.

The implementation of the Criminal Code is increasingly criticized

Today, Shia clerics believe that the “extremist” interpretation of the term ‘maharebeh’ as ​​a legal basis for issuing death sentences is another sign of the regime’s illegitimacy. Shortly after the execution of Mohsen Sehakri, prominent ayatollahs of Qum reminded that “in Islamic jurisprudence, the term moharebeh has a very precise definition, that is, using weapons to terrorize the population and wage war against God and the Prophet. .” Therefore, it is impossible to consider all Iranian demonstrators as moharebeh, because “when a person protests the status quo and is prevented by the security forces, he is only defending his rights.” Some remember that the death sentence for Ayatollah Khomeini himself, unless it was murder or theft, is unjust and exile is a sufficient sentence. Criticisms have also been extended to the skills of judges, who are considered unfit to formulate a correct interpretation and therefore render an appropriate sentence.

“The clerics are not fooled by the regime’s maneuvers, its offensive interpretations of the criminal code are part of its repressive arsenal, like the militias.”

Beyond the legal dispute, clerics are not fooled by the regime’s maneuvers, whose offensive interpretations of its Penal Code are as much a part of its repressive arsenal as militias. In addition, the crime of moharebeh is political in nature and has always been used to suppress opposition in Iran. The Islamic Republic is a theocracy, therefore, as an emanation of God on earth, and indeed considers any criticism or demonstration aimed at its reform or abolition as a war against God. From the outset, the right to simple demonstration can be tantamount to blasphemy and even terrorism, despite fundamental political freedom, including in Iran. Accused political activists, whose confessions are often obtained under torture, are given neither an independent defense nor the right to appeal the court’s decision. The Kurds, especially in 2018, and other ethnic groups have already paid the price for this accelerated procedure.

Self-interested Shia clerics

However, Iran’s Shiite clerics remain divided in the face of events and the regime. At the end of December, the most critical were still secretly urged to silence by their own hierarchy, at the risk of being fired or under house arrest. But the mullahs also know that they are very fragile in the face of public criticism. Islam is declining in Iran in favor of the ancient traditions of pre-Islamic Persia, symbolized by Zoroastrianism. The escalation of state violence and what are considered illegitimate sentences could fuel Iranians’ rejection of them — this fall, demonstrators also attacked clerics who symbolically removed their headscarves in the streets. What is new is that this growing concern among Iranian clerics has spread to Najaf, where Ayatollah Sistani, the supreme authority of Shiism in Iraq and representative of the “quiet” line, lives. [qui prône le retrait des religieux de l’action politique directe, ndlr]. The cleric’s entourage confirmed their dismay at the Iranian regime’s refusal to move forward and listen to the concerns of the Iranian people. Iran’s Shia clerics are keen to side with the people to ensure their survival instinct and co-existence with a population that hates them.

“Mullahs also know that they are very fragile in the face of people’s criticism. “Islam is retreating in Iran in favor of the ancient traditions of pre-Islamic Persia, symbolized by Zoroastrianism.”

Former reformist parliamentarians such as Hussain Ansari Rad have written to Ibrahim Raisi, strongly criticizing the administration of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and warning that if the Islamic Republic, which is already failing economically, politically, socially and culturally, continues its violence and ignores their demands. The people of Iran, the whole country would explode. Rouhani’s joining a similar position and claiming independence can be seen as a harbinger of changes in Iran. Having lost its last ideological base, the regime can only be forced to reform or, if it cannot do so, to disappear, perhaps allowing the emergence of another form of governance in which religion is not omnipresent.

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