Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made an unprecedented, nine-day trip to Qom last week to try to rehabilitate himself among the clerics. He has reasons to worry. Qom’s lack of subordination is a threat to Khamenei’s rule and to the long-term survival of the Islamic Republic — a system which prides itself with fusing (at least in theory) Islamic values and a republican form of governance.
Since June of 2009, Iranians have called into question Iran’s claim to be either a republic or an Islamic state. And if the religious establishment, which many Iranians still respect, echoes the views of disillusioned Iranians, Khamenei risks becoming a mere figurehead of an Islamic revolution gone awry. Although Khamenei has had a credibility problem since he was appointed supreme leader in 1989, now critics are no longer fearful of publicly condemning his rule.
Geneive Abdo is the director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation and the editor and creator of www.insideiran.org.