This is kind of a wow.
Iran’s biggest group of clerics has declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election to be illegitimate and condemned the subsequent crackdown.
The statement by the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom is an act of defiance against the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has made clear he will tolerate no further challenges to Mr Ahmadinejad’s “victory” over Mir Hossein Mousavi.
“It’s a clerical mutiny,” said one Iranian analyst. “This is the first time ever you have all these big clerics openly challenging the leader’s decision.” Another, in Tehran, said: “We are seeing the birth of a new political front.”
Professor Ali Ansari, head of Iranian Studies at St Andrews University, said: “It’s highly significant. It shows this is nowhere near resolved.”
The association’s statement also shows how deeply the political establishment is divided, and the extent to which the Supreme Leader now derives his power from military might, not moral authority. It makes it much harder for the regime to arrest Mr Mousavi and other opposition leaders.
And here is an interesting piece at Blogs and Stories about a plan by opponents of the current regime to turn a traditional Islamic holiday into an act of faith and a form of civil disobedience at the same time:
Monday is the start of an unusual three-day Islamic holiday called Itikaf. Sometimes translated as “seclusion” or “retreat,” Itikaf is a time when particularly pious Muslims cloister themselves inside homes or mosques for a period of intense prayer and deep spiritual reflection. It is a practice that the Iranian regime has long encouraged the country’s citizens, particularly the youth, to take part in, usually without much success.
But this year, supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are planning to take up the government’s appeal for religious observance. Mousavi’s Web site has called on Iranians to use the state-sanctioned holiday to launch a three-day, nationwide strike and boycott of businesses and banks in hopes of re-sparking the popular demonstrations that brought the country to a halt two weeks ago.
“The regime likes to defend its religious practices,” an aide and close confidant of Mousavi (who wants to remain anonymous for his own protection) told me. “We will use their religion to launch a widespread strike, to save Mousavi, and to annul the elections. [Itikaf] is something the regime has encouraged for years, so they can’t fight it.”
The practice of Itikaf allows Muslims to refrain from appearing at work, without facing any consequences. Indeed, it allows people to simply disappear from public without need for explanation. It also allows for mass assembly inside mosques, homes, and other gathering places—the equivalent of a peaceful sit-in (thus far, locations of the gatherings have been kept secret but organizers tell me there is hope that at least Mehdi Karroubi, the other reformist candidate, will join one of the gatherings). Mousavi’s Facebook page recommends using the religious holiday not only to refuse to go to work but also to refrain from spending any money and even to pull money out of state-run banks for “religious” reasons.
According to the organizers of the three-day strike, the protesters plan on using the religious observance to test the limits of the regime’s security apparatus. “Let them beat us in the mosques if they dare,” said one. “Let them beat us while we are fasting and praying.”
Aside from anything else, Itikaf sounds like one really cool holiday. I’m trying to think of something equivalent in Judaism, but aside from Shabbat — which obviously Muslims have, too, differently named — I’m coming up blank.