Monday, June 22, 2009

Family Feud: Iran Edition, Khamenei vs. Khamenei

Hujjat al-Islam al-Sayyid Hadi Khamenei, a mid-ranking Iranian Shi'i religious scholar and brother of the current supreme leader of the republic (Rahbar-e Jumhur) , al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, by Wednesday of last week (June 17) was arguing that a body representative of all sides should review the disputed Iranian presidential election results, and hear candidates' complaints. Hadi is a member of the Association of Combatant Clerics based in the shrine city of Qum (Qom), a large and some say growing body of Reformist religious scholars critical of the existing ruling political system. He met with representatives of candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi on Tuesday, June 16, and said that this impartial body should include representation from all sides, from representatives of his brother to Mousavi and the other three candidates, and members of the parliament and judiciary. Such a mix would prevent any one side from dominating or prejudicing the impartial review. The body's findings would be presented to the general public.

A public advocate for the Reformist camp, Hadi has been physically assaulted and seriously injured by pro-regime elements, such as members of conservative student organizations (nicknamed "Hizbullahi," which may explain unfounded rumors that LEBANON's Hizbullah is in Iran to quash demonstrations, which is also a rumor being spread by ideological right-wingers in the U.S., Canada, and Israel) and Basij militiamen. His first newspaper, Jahan-e Islam, was banned in 1995, and his second newspaper, Hayat-e No, was banned in January 2000.

Hadi , unlike his older brother, is a leading member of the Reformist camp, and worked as an advisor to former two-term president (1997-2005) Hujjat al-Islam al-Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, also a Reformist. In the past, Hadi has said that the powers exercised by the supreme leader were excessive and should be reduced, and he has publicly opposed the power of the Guardian Council (for more on the bodies in the Iranian government, see HERE) to disqualify candidates from running for parliament and the presidency. Hadi himself was barred from running for a seat on the Assembly of Experts, which elects and can remove the supreme leader, in 1998 by the Guardian Council, which said that he lacked the necessary "theological qualifications." This is hypocritical, since 'Ali Khamenei also lacks the scholarly requirements and requisite education to be supreme leader according to the original requirements in the 1979 Constitution. For more on this issue, see the "Comments" section of yesterday's post HERE.

Al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei

In 2000 at Tehran University, Hadi publicly criticized the Guardian Council's disqualification of hundreds of Reformist politicians, including sitting parliamentarians, from running for election or re-election that year. He said that the move endangered Iranian democracy, distorted the results (since conservative candidates outnumbered Reformists on the ballots), and was an improper use of power.

Given their very different views on politics and social issues, and their often contentious relations in public, one must assume that those Khamenei family get-togethers must be the epitome of "awkward."


Glencadia said...

This is great. I'm looking for someone with your level of understanding of the personalities and context to explain Moussavi's history and position to me: who is he, historically and ideologically? What kind of man is he? Why was he allowed to run for president if his election was so unacceptable? Did something happen during the campaign? Do reformers respect him? Did he support Khatami? Seems important to me, since his campaign triggered the current crisis, regardless of whether he should be the key man, he seems to be.

إبن الصقلي said...

My research interests focus mostly on the social role of the Twelver Shi'i religious scholars ('ulama, in Arabic), which is why the positions of individuals such as Hadi Khamenei and Grand Ayatullah Montazeri are of particular interest to me.

My knowledge of Mousavi specifically is much more limited. Since a little before the election, I checked some of the standard scholarly studies of the Iranian Revolution and Islamic Republic of Iran for more information about him.

Much of the information I have found has been reported in the "mainstream" press, e.g. that he was prime minister during most of the Iran-Iraq War and was originally a member of the revolutionary establishment. Even during the past election campaign, as I recall, he did not refer to himself as a member of the Reformist camp. He has become associated with this camp, I think, because he was endorsed by many of the most well-known Reformist politicians, like former two-term president Muhammad Khatami. Mehdi Karroubi, another of the candidates, did define himself as a Reformist, I believe.

Some have argued that individuals such as Mousavi, whose views seem to have evolved/changed cannot actually change. Those who make this argument believe that Mousavi and others are incapable of evolving or changing/adjusting their views on issues. However, many of the 1990s' and today's Reformists were also once much closer or even part of the establishment, but for varying reasons have re-evaluated and changed or adjusted their views based on new experiences and events. The most extreme, so to speak, example of this is Abdoulkarim Soroush. Others include former president Muhammad Khatami, Grand Ayatullah Saanei, and, of course, Grand Ayatullah Hossein 'Ali Montazeri. Montazeri. I do not believe that all of these individuals are "faking it," and think that such a charge is overly cynical. Now, has Mousavi really changed his views? I'm not sure we can tell yet, unless/until he is seated in some significant political office.

Thank you for reading, and for your compliment.

Glencadia said...

Thank you for your detailed reply.

إبن الصقلي said...

You're welcome. I'm sorry that I can't be of more help re: Mousavi. Although he is mentioned in most of the scholarly studies I checked, the information about him is brief and usually focuses on his economic policies. I am making a distinction here between scholarly works, i.e. those written by academic experts on modern Iran, and journalistic works, which may or may not be written by people with solid knowledge of the country and its recent history.

Anonymous said...

How about his son Mojtaba then? From what I've read, he's a rather unsavoury fellow.

إبن الصقلي said...

What about him?

The brief information on the linked site jives, for the most part, with what I know about 'Ali Khamenei's son with one exception: he, like is father, is not an ayatullah. He may use the title, but outside of revolutionary Iran, he would not be considered by his peers, say in al-Najaf, as an ayatullah or a serious scholar.

The man in the middle of the photograph is not one of Khamenei's sons, since he (A) is a bit old to be, and (B) because he is clearly not a Sayyid, which the Khameneis are.

Thanks for reading.

William deB. Mills said...

Very interesting article. I would like to broaden the discussion from Khamenei's blood family to his "clerical family."

In the last couple days, Western media have reported criticism of the regime from an association of Qom clerics. Did the NYT, for example, confuse a couple different groups with similar names (the Qom Seminary Teachers Society and the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers)?

My impression is that the former is Mezbah's, thus very pro-Ahmadinejad, while the latter has been pro-democracy for a decade but seems to have little influence. Can you tell us anything about these two groups?

إبن الصقلي said...

Thanks for reading!

Your understanding is the same as yours. "Reformist" or non-regime religious scholars ('ulama) have of course long been marginalized and had little influence over the republic's affairs, from the time of its founding. Khumayni and his allies sidelined Ayatullah al-Sayyid Mahmoud Taliqani, an advocate for a real parliamentary democracy, in 1979, and placed Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Shari'atmadari under house arrest in 1982, and then stripped him of his scholarly rank (at least in name), a move unprecedented in Twelver Shi'i history and practice.

In the 1990s and 2000s, progressive 'ulama such as Hujjats al-Islam Mohsen Kadivar, Hasan Yusefi Eshkevari, and Mohsen Sa'idzadeh have been similarly attacked by pro-regime 'ulama, and have even been imprisoned (like Kadivar and Eshkevari, who was once sentenced to death before his sentence was commuted to a prison term). There is even a special court to try "dissident" 'ulama, i.e. those who have the courage to stand up on principle.