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Entries in Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi (5)


Iran: A Clerical Front Against the Supreme Leader?

Iran: Your Easy-to-Use Ayatollah Scorecard
The Latest from Iran (24 July): Waiting for the Next Move

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KHAMENEI3The Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat is reporting today, based on statements from "a prominent member of the reformist party" that there is now a co-ordinated move amongst leading clerics against not only the Government but also the authority of the Supreme Leader.

The source claims, "The Grand Ayatollahs of Iran, such as Ayatollahs Sanei, Bayat-Zanjani, Montazeri and Javadi-Amoli, as well as other high-ranking clerics such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani, Seyed Mohammad Khatami, and Mehdi Karroubi and "businessmen, intellectuals, and eminent thinkers", have started a new movement. The goal of this movement is not limited to questioning the legality of this recent election and condemning the recent violence that the government has commited upon the protesters, but aims to question the legality of Khamenei's position as the supreme leader, thereby neutralizing him."

The confidential source also asserts that Mohammad Khatami's suggestion of a referendum on the post-election legitimacy of the Government must have the tacit support of these Grand Ayatollahs. The reformist activist adds, "In recent days the political activities of these individuals has undergone a major increase."

There are numerous reasons for caution with this story. It is based on a single confidential source, making verification almost impossible. Much of the Arabic-language media is hostile to the Iranian Government. (The English-language version of Asharq al-Awsat does not carry the story, although it has written about "a fight for power within the ruling religious establishment itself".) On the substance of the story, the protest of individual clerics over the Government's conduct is far different from the more substantial step of forging an activist front, and a challenge to Ayatollah Khameini is far beyond fatwas criticising the President. And, even if the story is true, the question remains whether the group of ayatollahs named can gather more support from bodies like the Assembly of Experts, given that pro-Government clerics such as Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi can still put out statements of support for Khamenei (and denunciation of Rafsanjani) in the Assembly's name.

Still, the Grand Ayatollahs listed have come out in support of the demonstrations (Javadi-Amoli has been listed by other reliable outlets as "relatively neutral", but our own information indicates he is critical of the Government --- see "Easy-to-Use Ayatollah Scorecard"). It is not only a case of the longer that this crisis goes on, the more scope there is for higher-profile protest; recent steps such as the argument over the appointment of the First Vice President, Rahim-Mashai, and the lack of flexibility in the Supreme Leader's statements offer a foundation for further challenges.

I wouldn't go as far as Asharq al-Awsat to frame this as a challenge to the "legality" of Ayatollah Khamenei, but he may soon be facing the choice of distancing himself from the President (and accepting at least limited "reform) or of preparing himself for the biggest fight of his 20 years as Supreme Leader.

The Latest from Iran (23 July): Preparing the Front

The Latest from Iran (24 July): Waiting for the Next Move

Iran: Ahmadinejad v. The Conservatives?
Iran Video: The Protests Continue (21-22 July)
The Latest from Iran (22 July): “The Pendulum Swings” Towards Opposition

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2200 GMT: Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, who earlier in the day denounced the appointment of First Vice President Esfandiari Rahim-Mashai, has criticised the "aggressive language" of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting: "We should urge everyone to use the language of friendship and compassion because the aggressive language used by IRIB will not help resolve any of the problems."

2105 GMT: Stupidity and Sense. In the Christian Science Monitor, an opinion piece by a Joshua Gleis decides to forego any consideration of events in favour of making stuff up: "When Middle Eastern powers feel trapped, they tend to swing blindly at outside states.". Therefore Iran has "the power to make things turn ugly fast". It could "might decide to ratchet up the tension with Britain", on the basis that it detained 15 Britain soldiers in March 2007 for crossing into Iranian waters. It "may decide to use its proxy force Hezbollah to carry out a deadly terrorist attack". It could launch "a major terrorist attack, like the one it carried out in 1994 at the Buenos Aires Jewish community center". It might kidnap the Statue of Liberty, holding it to ransom for the missing components for its Nuclear Bomb. (OK, the last one was mine, based on just as much evidence as Mr Gleis has for his "maybes".)

A bit of a relief, therefore, to hear this from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which substitutes a cold appreciation of the current situation for wild fantasies: ""The internal debates going on inside Iran have made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to pursue any diplomatic engagement, not just with us but anyone, like the P5+1 [permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany]. There is so much that is on hold."

2005 GMT: Son Killed, Mourning Dad Detained. A Los Angeles Times blog summarises a story, from Norooz Online, which has been racing around the Internet. On 20 June, Massoud Hashemzadeh was killed by a gunshot to the heart during demonstrations in Tehran. Hashemzadeh was buried in his native village in northern Iran, but the family was barred from holding any commemorative ceremonies.

On Thursday afternoon, security forces and Basiji militia, accompanied by uniformed security forces, went to Hashemzadeh's home. Maybe they showed up because well-wishers insisted on going to the home to offer their condolences. Maybe they arrived because on Tuesday, Hashemzadeh's brother and father told BBC Persian of the authorities' refusal to allow a mourning service.

In any case, after ripping down photographs of Hashemzadeh and messages of condolences, his father was detained. His two brothers, unwilling to let their father be taken away on his own, were detained as well.

2000 GMT: Hours after Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi signed a letter claiming the Assembly of Experts was seeking the removal of Hashemi Rafsanjani as its head (see 1400 GMT), a group of Qom clerics have issued a statement distancing themselves from the Ayatollah.

1700 GMT: Ahmadinejad Stands Tough. The Islamic Republic News Agency has published the President's official letter of appointment of his Vice Presidents, and Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, despite the opposition of the Supreme Leader and many "conservatives", is First amongst them. The list:

1) Mehrdad Bazrpash (head of the national youth office)
2) Parviz Davoodi (highest ranking adviser to the president)
3) Seyed Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi (highest ranking assistant to the president)
4) Ali Akbar Salehi (head of the atomic energy agency)
5) Mohammad Javad Hajaliakbari (presidential adviser in youth affairs)
6) Massoud Zaribafan (head of the martyr's foundation and veteran affairs)
7) Hamid Baghai (head of office of cultural heritage, tourism and handicrafts)
8) Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai (highest ranking vice president).

1400 GMT: Curiouser and Curiouser. The ripples from the Rahim-Mashai appointment as First Vice President spread wider and in unexpected directions. The newspaper Parto Sokhan, is headed by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who is considered as the spiritual guide of  President Ahmadinejad. Despite this, the editor of the paper, Qasem Ravanbakhsh, has written an editorial spelling out the reasons for the disapproval of Esfandiar Rahim-Moshai. He cites the famous statement by the Vice President that Iranians are friends of the Israeli people but is more upset about Rahim-Mashai's interventions into theological argument.

Given that the editorial would probably not have appeared without Mesbah Yazdi's acceptance, it appears that the President may now be defying even his spiritual mentor.

1315 GMT: Nuclear Update. While the resignation of Gholam Reza Aghazadeh as the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation received a good deal of attention, with speculation as to why he was leaving, the naming of Ali Akbar Salehi to the post has gone unnoticed.

Salehi's appointment is a sign the Iranian leadership has not closed the door to talks over the nuclear programme. Salehi was Iran’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) between 1999 and 2004. It was a sensitive time when the UN watchdog began investigating Iran’s programme: Iran's nuclear plant at Natanz was revealed, but Salehi, on Iran’s behalf, signed the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, allowing the IAEA snap inspections. He also handled Iran’s 2003-2005 talks with the European Union, which led to Tehran's suspension of uranium enrichment as a “goodwill gesture”. Salehi holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is fluent in English.

1215 GMT: Social Media Success! Less than three hours after we were notified that publication had been blocked on the Facebook page of Zahra Rahnavard (0750 GMT), the wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the restriction was lifted. She is now posting regularly.

1025 GMT: And Furthermore. Press TV is also being much nicer to Mir Hossein Mousavi at the moment. It covers his meeting with journalists under the headline, "Mousavi shows no sign of white flag", and the opening paragraph, "Without any indication of relenting, defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi says he will not drop his challenge to the June 12 election results."

1020 GMT: Uh Oh, Mahmoud. The President may want to watch his back or to consider a climbdown from his current position. In another sign of pressure on Ahmadinejad from both the Supreme Leader and from other conservative leaders, Press TV's website decided within the last hour to run the story of Cabinet division, highlighted in our first update (0545 GMT): "Amid a continued political controversy in Iran over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first vice presidential pick, cabinet members engage in a verbal quarrel with the president over his insistence on the choice. The quarrel broke out at Wednesday's cabinet meeting between President Ahmadinejad and the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi."

0845 GMT: Meanwhile, Another Fight in the Assembly of Experts. Conservative members such as Ayatollahs Mohammad Yazdi, Jannati, and Mesbah Yazdi have released a statement reminding the public of their obligation to the Supreme Leader. More importantly, at least for the short-term political struggle, they restate that members are trying to replace Rafsanjani from his position as head of the Assembly.

The statement, aired by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, has been issued in the name of all 86 members of the Assembly, even though it has only been signed by only 16.

0835 GMT: A bit of mischief from Javan, the newspaper linked to the Revolutionary Guard, which claims (without sources) "that an effort is being made to confront Ahmadinejad's inauguration with an alternative Parliament...coordinated between radical reformists and anti-Rahim-Mashai [the First Vice President] conservatives"

0815  GMT: We have just posted an analysis, by the Iranian columnist Mohammad Abtahi, of the developing battle between President Ahmadinejad and "conservatives" over his choice of the First Vice President, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

As we were editing this, news came in that Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami (who delivered a "hard-line" warning to the protest movement when he led Tehran prayers on 26 June) has declared the President's removal of Rahim-Mashai would show his loyalty to the Supreme Leader.

0750 GMT: Not-So-Social Media. A reader points us to the Facebook page of Mir Hossein Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard. She has written, "URGENT: (July 22) THE PUBLICATION RIGHTS FOR THIS PAGE ARE BLOCKED! FACEBOOK !! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

0745 GMT: A Correction. The fatwa of Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi (0615 GMT) criticised the selection of the First Vice President rather than the inauguration of President Ahmadinejad.

0720 GMT: Regime Concession? A report this morning that Ayatollah Khameini has decided to pardon or reduce the sentences of some individuals that have been recently arrested.

0655 GMT: Perhaps the "power overload" protests against the regime are having an effect. Or perhaps the Iranian infrastructure is just buckling under economic and political tensions. There is a report that utility services in Tehran are unstable, with some facing blackouts of more than six hours.

0645 GMT: Video has been posted of the hunger strike in front of the United Nations, including prominent Iranian activists, expatriates and supporters, which began yesterday. The action will culminate on Saturday as part of a global "United for Iran Day".

0615 GMT: Make that 3 ayatollahs (see 0545 GMT) who have come out against the Government in the last 24 hours. Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, who is considered "conservative" in religious approach and had been labelled "neutral" in his post-election position, has denounced the choice of Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai as First Vice President: "Installing such an individual is not legal and should he be installed by mistake the mistake should be remedied."

0545 GMT: A quieter but still significant start to the day, as the opposition began to lay foundations for a broader-based political challenge. As Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times summarises, "Increasingly, disparate reformists appear to be acting in concert, coordinating announcements and strategy." A lot of the attention is on Mir Hossein Mousavi's declaration that a new political front would be launched by the end of the week and his comments to journalists: "Power is always inclined to become absolute, and only people's movements can put a hold on this inclination."

Still, details are sketchy on how the political front would be organised and how it would pursue its objectives. (Indeed, the Los Angeles Times headline is misleading, missing the political dimension: "Iran opposition leader plans large-scale social movement.") This is also an issue that goes beyond "disparate reformists": the relationship of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and other "non-reformist" political and clerical leaders to the front is still to be seen.

So, the tangible story this morning is of more problems for the Government. Two more Ayatollahs took public stands against President Ahmadinejad (see yesterday's updates). Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani issued a fatwa denouncing the President's inauguaration while Ayatollah Dastgheib urged fellow clerics to support protestors, ""Using firearms and crude weapons against people and incarceration of the revolutionaries will never help safeguard Islam and the establishment."

Just as serious are the divisions within conservative ranks, furthered by Ahmadinejad's defiance of the Supreme Leader over the appointment of his First Vice President. Tabnak reports that a Cabinet meeting ended in a heated argument and profanity, as a debate between the President and Minister of Culture Hossein Safar-Harandi ended with the latter leaving the room.

Undeterred, Ahmadinejad criticized the interference of prominent individuals in the process of selecting Government officials. This indirect challenge to Ayatollah Khamenei prompted Minister of Inteligence Ejeie and the Minster of Labor to leave the meeting in protest.

And, although it may be tangential to the developments over the political front and within the Government, a sign also appeared that even the Supreme Leader could be challenged if the conflict escalates. Former Interior Minister Abdullah Nouri, compared Khamenei to the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi: "In the 1970s, nobody imagined that limited struggles would drive the shah out of the country."

The Latest from Iran (15 July): Chess not Checkers

The Latest from Iran (16 July): Waiting for Rafsanjani's Prayers

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MOUSAVI RAHNAVARD1940 GMT: Today, it was Mehdi Karroubi who carried out the opposition strategy of high-profile meetings with families of detainees.

1745 GMT: A Quiet Afternoon --- And Then. After hours where little happened, Mir Hossein Mousavi confirmed on his website that he will attend Friday prayers as part of a march "to collect freedoms" from the Government.

1105 GMT: Tabnak doesn't stop with the Kordan revelations (see 1030 GMT) in its embarrassment of the Government. It also runs an extensive, unflattering profile of Mohammad Mehdi Zahdi, the Minister of Science, Higher Education, and Technology

1030 GMT: Dishing the Dirt. One sign of a Government's weakness is when former members start giving up secrets. So it proves today with President Ahmadinejad's former Interior Minister, Ali Kordan, who was forced to resign over a faked Ph.D. from Oxford University.

So far Kordan's revelations, offered to Tabnak, mainly concern the current Speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, but Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, now an advisor to the Supreme Leader, Mohsen Rafiqdoost, a founder of the Revolutionary Guard, and Ahmadinejad also appear.

1000 GMT: Estimated deaths in this morning's plane crash now at 168.

Further arrests: Marjan Abdollahian and Koroush Javan Khorshid of Hamshahri newspaper have been detained.

0900 GMT: Iranian state media are confirming the crash of a plane travelling from Tehran to Yerevan in Armenia. The plane came down northwest of the Iranian capital near Qazvin. All 150 aboard are feared dead.

0800 GMT: Following our update below about the dynamics of Friday's prayer service, a post by "Maryam" at Keeping the Change catches the eye, both for its call for demonstration and its suspicion of the former President leading the prayers: "If Rafsanjani's Friday speech is perceived to be against the demonstrators and/or in favor of the regime, then it is likely that the divide that has slowly been developing between the protestors and the Reformists will be radically transformed into an insurmountable abyss, and that the course of the Iranian uprising will once again be instantly altered."

0600 GMT: Early in the post-election conflict, the US analyst Gary Sick commented that "Iranians prefer chess to football". I'm not sure about that: the folks I met in Iran were passionate about the latter (Persepolis v. Esteglhal rivals Manchester United v. Liverpool or even the good Red Sox v. the evil Yankees). The chess part, however, is more than appropriate. This is a contest which will not be decided by one overwhelming blow. Instead, it is a series of moves, some of which cannot yet be read even if they can be anticipated.

Momentum for Friday's prayer service, led by Hashemi Rafsanjani, continues to build. Marchers are anticipating a gathering which cannot be declared illegal, and the participation of key leaders is eagerly awaited though not yet confirmed. The latest symbolic move was the visit of Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, to the family of the slain protestor Sohrab Arabi (see video in separate entry).

At the same time, there is still uncertainty over how Friday will unfold. Rafsanjani is a powerful figure, but he is also a politician who is not trusted by many people. There is speculation that, rather than presenting a symbolic alliance with the challenge of the protesters, he will use the prayer service to put forth a limited compromise. Ebrahim Nabavi, the prominent Iranian writer living in Belgium, has published an open letter to Rafsanjani, "with much respect and peace", asking him to represent faithfully the concerns of the people.

If so, he may be serving a Government which continues to stagger amidst tension and division. While a window of 2-6 August for Ahmadinejad's inauguration as President has been announced, it is notable that it is still three weeks away. The regime's attempts to limit any challenge are being firmly resisted: Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former President's brother, countered a written declaration against the protests by General Sayyed Hassan Firouzabadi, the head of Iran's armed forces, saying that Firouzabadi gravely insulted the Iranian people.

And in Qom, where unease amongst clerics is increasing, even if it is not emerging as a direct challenge to the Government, the staunchly pro-Ahmadinejad Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi has tried to hit back with a series of answers to questions about the Iranian system of clerical authority (velayat-e-faqih) and the position of the Supreme Leader.

The Latest from Iran (6 July): Covered in Dust

The Latest from Iran (7 July): Sitting Out a Storm

UPDATED Iran: Solving the Mystery of The “Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom”
UPDATED Iran: Joe Biden’s “Green Light” and an Israeli Airstrike
The Latest From Iran (5 July): Treading Water

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2145 GMT: The death toll in Tehran may be far higher than official figures suggest. Fintan Dunne has posted this English rewrite of an article in Le Figaro:
One of a pair of Iranian doctors, who fled the capital to France says an unofficial tally by medical staff at Tehran area hospitals counted 92 violent deaths related to conflicts with security forces. The death toll is considerably at variance with an official figure of 17 deaths.

1700 GMT: An Iranian website is reporting on a meeting that Mir Hossein Mousavi held with "friends and acquaintances" on the occassion of Imam Ali's birthday. Mousavi said that the election had shown the problems of the Iranian system and repeated that the State faced questions over its legitimacy at home and abroad. He declared, on the issue of protest, "The movement will continue," but this would be within a legal framework.

1635 GMT: The Regime Wins One? Mehr News Agency reports that the Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Larijani, has finally congratulated President Ahmadinejad on his "victory". Larijani had caused some friction for the post-election procession with his querying of the neutrality of the Guardian Council and his demand for an enquiry into the raids on the dormitories of Tehran University. (hat tip to Nico Pitney)

1555 GMT: But here's the real significance of the Khamenei statement: yes, there is an fight going on within the rgime. According to Press TV, Khamenei "pointed to the internal disagreement among Iranian officials", although he then "explained that despite such disputes these officials stand united against the enemy". That's the point to remember amidst his bluster, "In the event of enemy intervention, the Iranian nation, despite differences of opinion, will unite and become an iron fist against them." 

1550 GMT: Look! Over There! The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has again brought out the foreign menace. Speaking on Monday, he warned Western countries against "meddling" in Iran's internal affairs: ""Such governments should be careful with their hostile approach and remarks. The Iranian nation will react." Khamenei also referred to protesters as a "depressed" and "distressed" minority.

1545 GMT: Expect a standstill in developments tomorrow. Confirmation that Tehran will be "shut down" for 24 hours tomorrow because of dust pollution.

1515 GMT: The LA Times is carrying confirmation of Mousavi's apparent decision to launch his own political party (which we reported yesterday).

1300 GMT: Another Lemming Jumps. The Wall Street Journal runs with Sunday's inaccurate and misleading New York Times story, plus a lot of general background, to try and catch attention with a Clerics v. The Regime story.

1240 GMT: Rumour of the day: a significant portion of the Revolutionary Guard have turned against the Supreme Leader. Twitter user MikVerbrugge claims the source of this information is an Iranian officer they are in contact with.

1230 GMT: Another British embassy worker has been freed, leaving one member of staff still in detention.

0920 GMT: And a nice reminder of the political tension behind the scenes. The German service Deutsche Welle reports that Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a staunch supporter of President Ahmadinejad, sent a stern letter to the Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Larijani, warning him to "obey" the Supreme Leader.

0915 GMT: Press TV's website also features the comment of police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam that "two-thirds" of those arrested in post-election conflicts had been freed or released on bail. The missing detail? Neither the police chief nor Press TV mention how many people were detained.

0845 GMT: Last night we began received reports of a large duststorm moving across Iran from the west, reaching Tehran today.

That's an apt metaphor for the current political situation. There's been an uneasy settling of conflict over the last few days but the sense that, even though public activity was reduced, there could soon be another clash. Ironically, even though there is almost no breaking news coming out of Tehran, that sense is heightened this morning.

On the clerical front, there is enough intrigue to fill several crises. That intrigue has been elevated (and, indeed, exaggerated) by Sunday's misleading New York Times story of a dramatic challenge to the Supreme Leader from Iran's "most important" clerical faction, the "Association of Teachers and Researchers of Qom".. We've sorted out fact from fiction in a separate post.

On the political front, both the regime and the opposition are manoeuvring ahead of the planned demonstration on Thursday. Protest will continue today, "Father's Day" in Iran, as relatives of detainees gather in front of Evin Prison. On the other side, the Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps (Revolutionary Guard) used a Sunday conference to put out warnings. The political head, General Yudollah Javani declared:
Today, no one is impartial. There are two currents; those who defend and support the revolution and the establishment, and those who are trying to topple it. Those who wanted to topple the revolution made a mistake in their calculations. They had ignored the awareness of the people and the role of the Leader.

The Commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, added, “We are convinced that the IRGC must play a deciding role in the preservation and continuation of the revolution.” (He added that this should in no way be interpreted as “meddling” by the IRGC in politics.)

Iran's Chief of Police, Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, chipped in with a public statement keeping the foreign menace alive: "The BBC and the British Embassy, spearheaded efforts aimed at provoking unrest and incited people to commit civil disobedience and go on strike." It is still unclear whether any local staffers of the British Embassy will stand trial for "endangering national security".

Iran: The Post-Election Challenge from Qom's Clerics 

Iran: The “Ghaffari Tape” Criticising the Supreme Leader
The Latest from Iran (1 July): The Opposition Regroups

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QOMIn the furour over the Presidential election, the most intriguing political contest may have taken place, behind the street scenes, in Iran's religious centre, south of Tehran in the dusty city of Qom.

Within 72 hours of the 12 June vote, the clerics of Qom's seminaries had taken their place on the political stage. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to mobilise them for a public challenge to President Ahmadinejad's victory. That initial attempt failed; indeed it is a key reasons why Rafsanjani then kept a careful silence before an equally careful, "balanced" return to public life with his speech last Sunday. There would be no mass movement of the religious leadership behind any campaign. Instead, factions already aligned to particular political movements would reassert their positions. The Association of Combatant Clerics would ally itself with the efforts of former President Mohammad Khatami and, thus, Mir Hossein Mousavi; Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, prominent on the Guardian Council, would bolster Ahmadinejad's position.

As the public demonstrations against the election swell, some Western media noted the possible significance of Qom, indeed over-dramatising a possible "split" in the Iranian system; conversely, as the public challenge has been contained, notions of a clerical challenge receded. That, too, is a mistake: the debate not only over the election but over the guardianship of Iran's Islamic Revolution continues.

While there still has been no significant show of support for the President (note Press TV's slightly strained attempt this morning, via an interview with a clerical member of Parliament, to say, "No one is talking about the election anymore), opposition has emerged in scattered but sometimes dramatic ways. The criticism of Ayatollah Montazeri, the one-time successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, was to be expected; the current regime, led by Montazeri's replacement, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, still keeps the cleric under house arrest. He is not alone, however. Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani has claimed that the Iranian system is moving away from Khomeini's path and thoughts. Ayatollam Mousavi-Ardebili has criticised violence against the protestors and said recent events have weakened Iran's political and religious institutions. Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli has expressed displeasure. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi and Ayatollah Sane’i have made gentler interventions, and Ayatollah Haeri-Shirazi has written a careful but still challenging letter to the Supreme Leader. There are reports of "secret" meetings between Ayatollahs to consider developments and longer-term prospects.

The most dramatic challenge has come in a statement by Ayatollah Hadi Ghaffari on Ayatollah Khamenei. The leaked
audio on YouTube
has created a stir with Ghaffari's criticism of the Supreme Leader's post-election conduct: Khamenei has ruined the honour of clerics with his handling of the political situation. (First reports said that Ghaffari had gone as far as to insult Khamenei as a "corpse-washer".) The ideals of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution are not being defended but destroyed.

None of this points to a Qom-led coup against President Ahmadinejad and, more importantly, Khamenei. On the other hand, these concerns are part of a much wider, more significant story of years past and years to come.

The Western caricature of Iran is that of a "theocracy" in which the "mullahs" hold power, working with secular politicians. That misconception misses the reality that a large section of Iran's clerical establishment are no friends of Ahmadinejad, whose policies and pronouncements have been seen as a challenge to the Iran envisaged by Ayatollah Khomeini. Indeed, it is not even accurate to speak on a unified clerical movement behind the Supreme Leader, whose selection in 1989 was a surprise to many --- given his relative junior status --- and has been seen as a triumph of politicians (ironically, given recent events, as part of manoeuvres by Hashemi Rafsanjani for authority) rather than a religious succession.

No surprise then that another video has supposedly resurfaced, this one of Ayatollah Montazeri considering the Iranian system of clerical authority, Velayat-e-Faqih, as he criticises Ayatollah Khameini. The text is clear: religion's true and proper place in the growth of the Islamic Republic has become "politicised" and thus corrupted.

And that is why the Presidential vote has a lasting significance, whatever happens in the near future with the demonstrations. Those ballot boxes are a symbol of the wider corruption that Montazeri claimed was undermining the Revolution. And, long after they have been put away, their symbolism --- whatever actually happened on 12 June --- remains.

As pne of our correspondents noted, after a lengthy glance at Qom last week, "This is not over."