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Iran debate: Who owns the revolution?

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"To follow the path of the Islamic revolution, support for the principlists is necessary, inevitable, and a divine duty of all revolutionary groups," the Revolutionary Guards commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said last month.

Those words brought stinging rebuke from across the political spectrum, even from fellow hard-liners such as the editor of the hard-line newspaper Kayhan, who called it a "faulty declaration" that is "against the clear guidelines."

Among reformist critics was the respected grandson of the late leader. "If a soldier wants to enter into politics, he needs to forget the military and the presence of a gun in politics means the end of all dialogue," said Sayed Hassan Khomeini, a mid-ranking cleric in charge of his grandfather's mausoleum, in a rare public comment.

"Those who claim to be loyal to [Khomeini] should be very sensitive to this order, which was directly given by him," Mr. Khomeini said. Noting that the revolution's leader put great store in the vote of the people, he criticized the initial disqualification of some 2,200 reformist candidates (850 of whom have been reinstated) including another Khomeini grandson. "No one can prevent the people from deciding their future," he said.

But the hard-line counterattack was swift and unprecedented. A website close to the president's office went after the Khomeini family itself – a target long off-limits. Under the headline, "The Secret of the Red Cheeks of Sayed Hassam Khomeini," the Nosazi website wrote that Khomeini had received a $75,000 BMW and lived in luxury in north Tehran, where he would "never leave" his steam sauna but "have the luck to see the problems of the poor and needy with [his] red cheeks."

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