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Iran move to defrock dissident ayatollah opens rifts in theocracy

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Maintaining legitimacy by controlling clerical networks

The Islamic Republic has safeguarded its religious legitimacy in the past 30 years by extending its authority over disparate clerical networks. It has done this through lavishly funding deferential clerics, while arresting or intimidating challengers.

“With the exception of Ayatollah Nuri Hamedani, who is strongly in favor of the regime, all the objects of emulation are unhappy,” said an Iranian political analyst, speaking on the phone from the seminary city of Qom. “With the exception of [Ayatollahs] Sanei and Mousavi-Ardebili, who issue anti-regime proclamations, the conservative clerics remain silent, even though they oppose the regime.”

“The Shiite theocracy in its present form has failed,” said dissident Ayatollah Mohsen Kadivar in a December interview with German magazine Der Spiegel. “I do not know when exactly, but I am convinced that the regime will collapse.”

Ayatollah Kadivar lives in exile in the United States and is seeking to rally pro-reform clerics in Qom and Tehran, according to clerical sources. But many are frightened to come on board because of regime harassment and “Iranian intelligence’s strict control of phone communications within the clerical system,” says a source inside Iran.

Some acts of defiance

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