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Cleric Montazeri stood tall in Iranian opposition movement

Even after the passing of this most respected Islamic scholar, the idea of Montazeri that the legitimacy of leaders comes the people will continue to fuel protests in Iran.

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Iran’s pro-democracy dissidents lost a supportive religious leader, Hossein Ali Montazeri, on Sunday. But not really.

Large-scale public mourning for the passing of this Islamic ayatollah only shows that his ideas about the source of legitimacy in government are quite alive in the hearts of Iranians. Those ideas may yet bring about a successful revolution against the 30-year-old Islamic Republic.

Mr. Montazeri had a prominence in Iran like no other living figure in recent years. He was a leading figure in the 1979 revolution that overthrew one dictator, and then became a chief critic of an equally brutal dictatorship under the unelected “supreme” Muslim leaders of Iran.

And yet, despite widespread admiration for this Islamic scholar, he insisted that authority to govern comes from the people, not clerics like himself who he said must serve as only advisers to elected leaders. That was the central idea that led him to defect from the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the late 1980s – when hundreds of political dissidents were executed – and forced him to give up his role as heir apparent.

Montazeri, who was later under house arrest for six years in the religious city of Qom, will be remembered as one of the few champions in the Middle East for secular democratic rule – much like Europe’s reformers centuries ago who led revolutions against church authority over government.

His words will probably continue to create a crisis of authority within Iran’s ruling establishment. Internal dissent among the ruling clerics now reflects the ongoing pro-democracy protests that sprang from June’s rigged presidential elections – elections in which candidates had to first meet the approval of clerics.


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