Iranians’ future in hands of clerics

As hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities Monday to protest Friday’s election results, the country’s supreme leader ordered a committee of clerics to investigate possible election irregularities.

But don’t bet too heavily on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or the other clerics to overturn the election that supposedly resulted in 65 percent of the vote going to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, despite massive support for his challenger.

After all, Khamenei has already congratulated the president on his re-election victory. The investigation appears aimed more at dissipating growing unrest in the country than any real attempt to ferret out election fraud.

Beyond that, while reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters have been warned not to incite violence, President Ahmadinejad talks openly — with the apparent support of the clerics — of “purifying” Iran of Mousavi supporters.

But those supporters were out en masse in many of the nation’s largest cities through Monday. The Ayatollah and his fellow clerics are seeing the largest popular uprising since they led the drive to overthrow the Shah in 1979. They may be more than a little worried about how much they can press their countrymen.

Iran is teetering on the brink. Will the ruling clerics allow it to move toward tumultuous but relatively unbiased elections? Or will they let Ahmadinejad turn it into one more declining dictatorship in which all opponents of the regime — real or imagined — are systematically purged from society?

We hope, with not much confidence, that it will be the former.


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