Middle-East Democracy

An editorial appearing in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal serves as an interesting lens through which one might interpret an unrelated article in the same issue about the United States’ Middle East policy.

“The theoretical basis for this monopoly on power is the religio-political concept of the ‘guardianship of the Islamic jurist’ (velayat-e faqih),” says a June 2005 report from the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School, describing the rule of law that Ground Zero Mosque Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf asserts is the will of the people in Iran.  What Mr. Rauf doesn’t mention, however, is that most of the people believe that velayat-e-faqih has been abused under the dictatorship of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei.  Not only do Iranians reject the legitimacy of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency, they also claim that Ayatollah Khamenei lacks the religious credentials to function as “Supreme Leader” (vali-ye faqih).

“In Article 110 of the original Constitution, six areas had been considered to be in the domain of his authority,” said the late Grand Ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri, explaining the controversy in Iran about the expansion of legal authority attributed to the vali-ye faqih, “however, in the revision of the Constitution, the areas of authority were increased to eleven.”  Grand Ayatollah Montazeri – who served as spiritual leader to last year’s Green Movement dissidents – was designated to become vali-ye faqih in Iran, until he was placed under house arrest in 1997 for exposing Ayatollah Khamenei’s abuse of prisoners.

After turning its back on the people of Iran by ignoring the crescendo of last year’s pleas for American encouragement by Green Movement dissidents following the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, the Obama administration again finds itself faced with a similar decision in the Middle East: do what seems most likely to effect safety and happiness by pressing  Egypt to open up its political system ahead of next year’s presidential elections or extend another open hand of benign consent for continuing dictatorship in the region.


Editors, “Letters from the Imam,” The Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2010, Opinion.

Jay Solomon, “Congress Presses for Egypt Openness,” The Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2010, World News.

Wilfried Buchta, “Taking Stock of a Quarter Century of the Islamic Republic of Iran” (Occasional Publications 5, Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School, June 2005).

Geneive Abdo and Ayatollah Hossein ‘Ali Montazeri, “Re-Thinking the Islamic Republic: A ‘Conversation’ with Ayatollah Hossein ‘Ali Montazeri,” The Middle East Journal  55 (Winter 2001).


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