Khamenei Is A Dictator, Say Clerics

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It is wrong to call Iran a monarchy, even though it has a supreme leader who oversees all matters of state. (He is, in turn, overseen by a council of Islamic scholars, the Assembly of Experts, which has the ability to remove, in theory, the supremacy of the supreme.) But it is still striking to have an anonymous letter from unnamed clerics circulating Iran calling Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei the head of a “dictatorship”–a clear open challenge to the near-sovereign power of state. From the New York Times:

In their 11-page letter, the clerics blamed Ayatollah Khamenei for the violence after the elections, in which dozens of people, and possibly many more, were killed. They accused him of turning the Revolutionary Guards into “his own private guard, and the media into an instrument to defend and propagate him.”

The clerics wrote that fear of Ayatollah Khamenei made it impossible for them to sign their names: “there is such a dictatorship that we, as defenders of religion who are also close to public officials, have to practice Taqieh,” a reference to a Shiite practice of lying or concealment for expediency.

The Times reporters are quick to qualify the import of this insurrection. The authors are most likely mid-level clerics from Qom, Isfahan and Mashhad, and Khamenei maintains the loyalty of the security services and the political elite. But the symbolism of the action, coming on the heels of another letter from former reformist lawmakers openly criticizing Khamenei, not to mention ongoing dispute between conservatives and President Ahmadinejad, leaves little doubt that the turmoil in Iran is far from resolution.