As Iran Unrest Goes On, Watch the Clerics

Mullahs far from Tehran may step in to end election dispute
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2009 7:08 AM CDT
Powerful former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani casts his ballot for the presidential elections in Tehran, Iran, Friday June, 12, 2009.   (AP photo/Iranian students news agency, Arash Khamushi)
camera-icon View 3 more images

(Newser) – As protesters continue to express anger and defy arrest, the endgame of Iran's disputed election may take place not in Tehran, but in the holy city of Qom—where the country's powerful clerics have so far kept silent. Except for a few prominent reformists, Iran's mullahs have refused to take sides. The cleric to watch: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, may be gathering support for the opposition now.

As the New York Times reports, Rafsanjani leads the Assembly of Experts, which oversees Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's performance, and his daughter was spotted at a Mousavi rally yesterday. Iran watchers speculate that he might be gathering clerical opposition to the government. When the clerics weigh in their voices can be decisive; in 1979, they plotted against the shah until he was overthrown. "If the clergy becomes Khamenei's enemy," says one professor, "just think about it."