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In Qom, Iran's supreme leader Khamenei aims to cement leadership over clerics

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The wide social and political divisions across the country were reflected among the clergy, too. While Khamenei sided with Mr. Ahmadinejad – calling his official victory a “divine assessment” – other clerics more senior than Khamenei in theological rank opposed the result, with one stating that “no one in their right mind” could accept it.

Opponents largely silenced

Tuesday’s visit to Qom aimed to reaffirm Khamenei’s credentials and dominance, now that the few remaining ayatollahs that publicly oppose him have been largely silenced – their homes and offices under surveillance, and websites cut off.

Much of the rest of Iran’s clerical establishment – the majority, says Mr. Khalaji, whose father is an ayatollah in Qom that has been hassled by security services – have kept silent, aware that it is the government that backs them with big budgets in return for political support.

“The fact that those clerics are welcoming him [in Qom], accepting him, receiving him, that’s a big thing for [Khamenei]. It shows that, ‘My religious position, my leadership is approved,’” says Khalaji, who is writing a biography about Khamenei. “Some pictures, some video shots – that would be enough for him, in order to show to the religious strata of society that, ‘Don’t think that whatever happened last year damaged my religious credentials.' ”

Khamenei: Enemy driving a wedge between clerics, public

In his speech in Qom, Khamenei stressed that two pillars of the Islamic Republic remained both its religious and its popular nature – aspects which have grown in tension since the 1979 Islamic revolution, most notably since the vote last year.

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