A new EA correspondent, drawing on sources in Iran, offers this assessment:
He came he saw and he met. But did he conquer?
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's first visit to Qom in a decade got the reception everyone expected. His car was surrounded by thousands of supporters in ectasy, the courtyard was filled to the brim, and the cameras had no trouble taking wide-angle snapshots showing considerable crowds.
But something was decidedly missing in the more intimate meetings held by Khamenei with the clergy, Qom's main claim to fame. None of the city's senior clerics were at hand to meet Khamenei and confer with him on the pressing matters of state.
Ayatollahs Sane'i, Shobeyri, the officiator of the funeral of Montazeri last year, Mousavi Ardabili, Makare Doing in Qo m Shirazi, or, most prominently Vahid Khorasani --- who in the past has resorted to leaving Qom for Damascus to avoid meeting Khamenei --- were all missing. Instead, the encounte featured instead a bizarrely-placed and dapper-looking Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, ostensibly in his role as MP for Qom, in the middle of two ageing and anonymous mullahs.
Khamenei's quest to shore up his religious authority and legitimacy is manifestly failing. The Supreme Leader will take little comfort of sharing the room with reactionary, infamous, and ultimately middle-ranking clerics such as Nouri Hamedani or Mesbah Yazdi.
The next nine days of the visit could see further ectastic crowds, plenty of low and middle-ranking clerics, and even more provocative statements by the Supreme Leader, who yesterday compared the participants of last year's massive protests to "microbes" and railed once again against the plotting "enemy". But it is an almost foregone conclusion that the main aim of Khamenei's visit, meeting eye-to-eye with those high-evel clerics who have repeatedly fired salvos against his rule and that of President Ahmadinejad, will evaporate into the religious air of Qom.