Among the remarkable things to come out of the Iranian presidential election, aside from the street demonstrations, is the emerging picture of the clerical regime’s complex internal divisions. For years, Iran has been depicted in the Western press as a monolithic regime, but the range of opinions and surprising alliances born of last Friday’s disputed election reveal a much more vibrant and nuanced society. Take this letter to the people of Iran from Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. A key figure in the 1979 Revolution, he’s become a strong voice in support of the protesters, deriding election results which he alleges were “altered considerably.”
Excerpts from his letter, as translated by the Tehran Bureau:
Over the last several days I have been witnessing the glowing presence and the lively and sacrificial efforts of my dear and dignified sisters and brothers, old and young, in the campaign for the 10th presidential elections. Our youth also demonstrated their presence in the political scene with hope and good spirit, in order to achieve their rightful demands. They waited patiently night and day. This was an excellent occasion for the government’s officials to take advantage of and establish religious, emotional and nationalistic bonds with our youth and the rest of our people.
Unfortunately, however, this opportunity was wasted in the worst possible way. Such election results were declared that no wise person in their right mind can believe; results based on credible evidence and witnesses has been altered extensively, and after strong protests by the people against such acts — the same people who have carried the heavy weight and burden of the Revolution during eight years of war and resisted the tanks of the imperial government [of the Shah] and those of the enemy [Iraq] — they attacked the children of the same people and nation right in front of the domestic and foreign reporters, and used astonishing violence against defenseless men and women and the dear [university] students, injuring and arresting them. And, now, they are trying to purge activists, intellectuals, and political opponents by arresting a large number of them, some of whom have even held high positions in the government of the Islamic Republic.
A characteristic of a strong and legitimate government — Islamic or not — is that it is capable of respecting all opinions, whether they support it or oppose it. This is necessary for any political system, in order to embrace all social classes and encourage them to participate in the affairs of their nation, and not dismiss and repulse them and, therefore, increase their numbers [the opponents’] every day. I am afraid that because the regime is considered a religious government, such acts of its officials will lead to the loss of people’s faith in their religion, and will hurt Islam.
The present circumstances and problems that have been created after the elections have astounded the people and made them pessimistic [about their government]. They expect the officials, based on their moral and religious teachings, to be neutral and demonstrate their honesty by protecting people’s rights, particularly about such an important issue [the elections]. It is expected of the government to find an acceptable and reasonable response to people’s demands, and by using the right approach eliminate people’s pessimism and doubts. Otherwise, people will lose their trust in the government, and the government’s legitimacy will become questionable. I have said repeatedly that the nation’s votes are valuable popular and Godly assets, and any government that is based on altering them has no legitimacy.
I ask everybody, particularly our dear youth, to continue claiming their demands with patience and to be careful and alert about keeping the peace and the nation’s security, by avoiding any kind of violence, in order not to provide any excuse to the thugs who wish to distort their lawful demands, thugs that are embedded among the people and by setting fire on people’s property and creating chaos and destruction wish to create a besieged atmosphere in the country. It is necessary to have an informed presence in the political arena, so as to allow those candidates whose rights have been denied to pursue the legal path.
I remind all officials and security and military personnel that they should preserve their religion and not sell it out for the sake of others, and be aware that the excuse that they have been ordered [to act unlawfully] will never be accepted by the great God. They should consider people’s protesting children like their own, and avoid any irresponsible and inhumane confrontation [with them], and by learning from the past be aware that sooner or later those who commit unjust acts against people will be punished both in this world and the next. It is not possible in this era to hide the truth from the people by censorship and cutting off telecommunication communications between them.