Senior Iranian cleric calls regime "illegitimate"

The Iranian crisis took a promising turn overnight as the senior ayatollah in Iran blasted the regime and its machinations over the election.  Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, at one time under consideration to replace Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader, wrote on his website that the official results were so ludicrous that no one could believe them.  He attacked the Guardian Council itself, saying that they had proved themselves illegitimate through their clumsy attempt to grasp power:

Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main rival in the disputed presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, massed in competing rallies Tuesday as the country’s most senior Islamic cleric threw his weight behind opposition charges that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was rigged.

“No one in their right mind can believe” the official results from Friday’s contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime of handling Mousavi’s charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers “in the worst way possible.”

“A government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy,” he declared in comments on his official Web site. “I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to ‘sell their religion,’ and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God.”

Montazeri had fallen out of grace with the Guardian Council years ago.  He had the temerity (and bad timing) to criticize the human-rights abuses of the Khomeini regime while Khomeini was alive, which prompted Khomeini to push Montazeri out and put Ali Khamenei in his place.  The Guardian Council had him placed under house arrest for his dissent a few years ago, but it has not kept Montazeri from speaking his mind, nor has the Guardian Council taken steps to strip him of his status as an eminence grise.

His dissent at this time would not be unexpected, but perhaps the strength of his argument might be.  Montazeri certainly doesn’t hold much back in this statement, accusing the Guardian Council and the regime of stupidity, illegitimacy, and un-Islamic practice.  About the only way he could make it worse is by accusing them of having pork luaus in Tehran.

The protestors will certainly take heart from Montazeri’s words, but we will see whether his exhortation to the police and the Revolutionary Guard “not to sell their religion” and to refrain from oppression have any real effect.  Those who agreed with Montazeri before now probably no longer work in those jobs, and those who remained likely are the “true believers” in the regime.  At this point, though, Montazeri’s statement at least gives dissenters some religious basis, which could boost morale and keep the movement in motion.