Special to Iran Press Service
TEHRAN 31 DEC. (IPS) In his first ever frontal criticism of both the ayatollah Ali Khameneh'I, the leader and strongman of the Islamic Republic as well as the conservative religious-political establishment he represents, the new Iranian president, ayatollah Mohammad Khatami reminded the ruling clergy that they are not "superior to the rest of the Iranians and should not stand above them".
Speaking to some representatives of the clergy, Mr Khatami said clergymen must not think they are the masters of the people. "People have the right of choosing and they may make the wrong choice. It's not to us to impose our own views and choices on them and like anyone else, we shall respect the laws and the constitution", he told them.
His remarks were in sharp contrast of those of those of Mr Khameneh'i and his conservative supporters, who give the leader the right of the guardianship over the people, considered as being minors.
In a recent declaration, the ayatollah Ali Meshkini, the Speaker of the Assembly of Experts and a close relative to the leader said the valy, in this case the ayatollah Khameneh'i, has all the rights and powers possessed by the prophet Mohammad and therefore he can dispose of all the nation's wealth and even those in possession of private individuals as he likes.
Defending the plurality of ideas, opinions and schools of thinking, Mr Khatami noted that a real civil society was not and should not be made homogeneous. "In a society, there are different but natural tendencies. One's skill is not to suppress and eradicate them, to uniform all tastes and opinions, one's real skill is how to come about these tendencies and opinions and to better utilise them for a more prosperity and development of the nation and the people", he pointed out.
Criticising openly the fundamentalist clergy around the leader and the pressure groups at their disposal to suppress and put to silence their opponents, Mr Khatami warned that "the real danger comes when one claim that one tendency is the exact replica of Islam and the other against it. The real danger is when one pretends that one tendency is the real supporter of the velayat faqih and those who are not in this tendency are against the velayat. Real danger is to brand one tendency as being in line of the revolution and the other against it and tag it as liberal and pro America", he told his audience.
According to most Iranian analyst, unwillingly and reluctantly, Mr Khatami is pushed by the fundamentalist clergy to stand up to them more openly and more vigorously
"Like Mr (the Israeli right wing Prime Minister Benjamin) Netenyahu who, with his hard line policy, is serving the cause of the Palestinian and the Arabs, here, Mr Khameneh'i is rendering the same kind of service to the new president, pushing him to react more strongly against the defeated, but ruling conservative religious and political establishment", observed one Iranian political analyst.
The truce which existed among the ruling troika, represented by the ayatollah Khameneh'i, the ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who now leads the influential Council for the Discernment of the State's Interests (CDSI) and the new president, the ayatollah Khatami, was broke down at the start of the last Islamic Summit held in Tehran last month when Mr Khameneh'i decided, in a drive to assert his leadership over the participants at the conference, to address the opening ceremonies of the Summit.
"By his unwise intrusion into the Islamic forum, Mr Khameneh'i, who was seeking to be recognised as the leader of the Muslims, ended to be badly humiliated and belittled. Not finding a tail, he lost two ears, as goes one old Iranian proverb. The result was a score of zero against twenty in favour of Mr Khatami who, feeling to have the winds aft, made two big holes in the traditional war monger diplomacy of the regime carried by the leader", noted the same analyst.
"We are all human beings, subject to make mistakes. We are not the people's tutors, what we can do is to help people to correct their mistakes. We are not allowed to use the sacred to impose our own personal views, for, the present constitution has recognised the right of every Iranian to have his own and private views, opinions and ideas and the first duty of the government is to implement and defend these rights, therefore, when one says freedom, don't cry fool, saying that they want liberalism".
Observers saw in this passage a strong defence of leading political and religious dissidents such as the grand ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri and Dr Abdol Karim Sorush both of them staunch critics of the principle of velayate faqih, or the concept of guardianship of the religious over the mass of the Muslim, as well as the students who, more than a month ago, started the anti-vali movement by publicly questioning the role, the powers and the mandate of the leader.