Iraq the Model
I was always skeptical of the idea that democracy in Iraq would be so attractive in the Middle East that it would spread virally throughout the region. However, Iraq does serve as a useful model to its neighbor, Iran, in one particular and the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor is performing good service in reminding us of that:
Ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the weakest reed in Iran’s complex system of government has been the claim of a supreme leader with absolute political authority based on his Islamic credentials. It is an idea not accepted by the 90 percent of the world’s Muslims who are Sunni. And it is rejected outside Iran in other Shiite strongholds, such as in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon and in Iraq.
Known in Arabic as velayat-e motlaqeh-ye faqih (guardian or the jurist), this concocted religious doctrine, enshrined in Iran’s Constitution, was recently rejected by a leading Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeric, who was once the designated successor to the founder of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
But the debate over a supreme leader may not fade. There are signs in Iran of increasing popularity for Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite figure in Iraq. Since the 2003 US invasion, he has supported a democracy that is run by secular leaders and inclusive of all faiths. (The Shiite spiritual leader in Lebanon, Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, also does not see himself as a political leader.)
An Iranian by birth, Mr. Sistani holds much sway over the clerical establishment in Iran’s most religious city, Qom. And he lives in the Iraqi city of Najaf, the most holy of Shiite sites and a popular pilgrimage for Iranians.
Ali Sistani is deserving of praise as the Monitor reminds us. His example and teaching stand in stark opposition to Khomeinism and as such he presents a rebuke and threat to the Iranian ruling oligarchy.