Veteran Basiji (volunteers) who fought to defend Iran against Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war, have formed a committee to support the most moderate candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, in the upcoming election (The Ottawa Citizen A8, 10 June 2009, reprinted from The Daily Telegraph). They have expressed disdain for people who have today appropriated the title Basiji, for their style of politics, and their fanaticism.
According to Hamid Salehi,
"There are two different kinds of Basiji. There are the real Basiji like us, who participated and volunteered in the war, and then there are those who support the president [Ahmadi-nejad], who just use it as a label."
Mohammad Tabaytabaye stated:
"The real Basijis sacrificed themselves for the country so we could have freedom. They are not the same as those guys who come with sticks and chains and hit the young people because they have different tastes and different clothing.
I see these people wearing the Basiji scarves and clothes, and it makes me angry, it is as if they have stolen my identity."
This is one instance of the use of religious symbolism–according to the above article “Basiji...are seen as embodying the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution”–by contending parties to convey their worth and credibility.
What are the other religious symbols important in contemporary Iran, and how are they used to advance political goals? What are the limits of credibility in the use of religious symbols in Iranian politics? Are there competing, non-religious symbols currently of importance in Iranian politics?
[TEHRAN BUREAU] The leader of Tehran’s Friday prayers is selected on a rotating basis from among conservative and ultra-conservative clerics by an organization that is controlled by the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
One exception has been Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, who heads two powerful Constitutional bodies. One is the Expediency Council (EC), which arbitrates over disputes between the Majles (parliament) and the Guardian Council (GC), another constitutional body which interprets the constitution, vets candidates for most elections, and certifies the validity of those elections.
On Saturday, the EC handed a rare victory to pragmatists and reformists by declaring that no official may hold more than one position. This would force at least two ultra-conservative members of the GC, and in particular Gholamhossein Elham, the government spokesman, justice minister and GC member, to either step down from the GC, or resign from other positions. (Elham is a staunch ally of Ahmadinejad and has close links with the Basij militia as well.)
Rafsanjani also heads the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader, monitors his performance, and also, in theory, has the power to fire him.
These two constitutional bodies give Rafsanjani considerable power. (N.B. The positions Rafsanjani holds have long been exempt from such rules.)
Rafsanjani has been known to be a pragmatic politician. He has been bitterly opposed to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and has been locked in a long ongoing dispute with him and his supporters. Furthermore, Rafsanjani has supported and defended the reformist candidates, and in particular Mir Hossein Mousavi.
After a long absence from leading Friday prayer, Rafsanjani is supposed to lead it again on July 17. Due to his support of the reformists, and in reaction to the Supreme Leader’s Friday June 19 speech, in which he declared the election valid and threatened the reformists and even the public at large, the reformists have decided to turn the upcoming Friday prayer ceremony into a show of support for Mousavi and Rafsanjani.
Mousavi’s official Facebook page has called for a massive turnout for the upcoming Friday prayer. (It is believed that this has been called for by Rafsanjani himself.) Supporters of Mousavi have asked people to attend the Friday prayer in large numbers — at least a million strong. It has announced that both Mousavi and former president Mohammad Khatami, a strong supporter of Mousavi who has accused the current government of staging a “velvet coup” against the vote of the people, will attend the prayers.
Note that whenever the Supreme Leader leads the Friday prayers, it is obligatory for all the important political figures and leaders to attend the prayers. But neither Rafsanjani, Khatami, Mahdi Karroubi nor Mousavi attended Friday prayers on June 19. Thus, the presence of Khatami, Karroubi and other reformist leaders in a Friday prayer led by Rafsanjani is expected to have enormous symbolic meaning.
The reformists also hope that the Friday prayer will signal to both hard-liners and the world that the democratic movement is not dead, but very much alive and that it will seize any opportunity to express its peaceful opposition to the rigged election and the hard-liners.
The current rulers of the Islamic Republic are manipulating Friday sermons and other ritual occasions so as to exclude "reformistists" and eliminate occasions when opposition might be expressed, especially by large crowds.