As speculation rises over a possible split between the Qom Seminary Teachers Association (Jame Modaresine Hoze Elmie Qom, JMHRQ) and the (Jame Rohaniate Mobarez, JRM, a right-wing conservative and influential clerical group known as Tehran’s Society of Combatant Clergy) a day after the JRM held a meeting that was marked by the noticeable absence of cleric Mohammad Yazdi, a new political group has been announced in the Qom Theological Seminary which is tipped to have close ties to the government presidential candidate for the 2012 elections.
The JRM and the JMHEQ are two long-time political groupings in the Islamic republic each of which is made up of very influential conservative clerics which played a key role in the 2009 elections for the ninth president.
After the disputed 2009 presidential election, the two groups published a 12-point document known as the Principlist Charter which defined the characteristics of principlists and apparently united against their rivals. They formed a work group to resolve their differences for the elections to the ninth Majlis and announced a joint 30-man list of candidates for Tehran. But these efforts and the union did not ultimately prove lasting and the principlists eventually split into two groups: the Steadfast Front (lead by Mesbah Yazdi) and the United Principlist Front, comprising of traditional conservatists, who competed with each other.
Today, as principlist activists – said to be about 40 individuals – are busy forming campaign committees for the next presidential election in 2013, news reports are surfacing that JMHEQ and JRM are now again holding joint sessions to review candidates for the 2013 presidential race.
Amid the speculations, seyed Reza Akrami, a member of the JRM announced after Tuesday’s joint meeting that “ayatollah Yazdi was attending the joint sessions merely as a member of the JRM and there were no joint plans between JRM and JMHEQ.”
But despite this, Yazdi did not attend Tuesday’s meeting which was attributed to him being in Qom and the absence of other JMHEQ members.
The JRM itself issued a statement a day after the joint meeting which said, “JRM stresses cooperation and unity among principlists and warns against any divisive action. It will strive for principlists to participate in the elections in a coordinated and united manner. Important state decisions and those that impact the lives of people must follow general policies and be introduced to society jointly and through agreement so that … they do not disrupt the political economic atmosphere of the country and prevent people from being subjected to more harm.”
Just hours after this publication of this statement, a news agency reported that “On Thursday morning that a group that had gathered in the Daral Shafa school in the Qom Theological Seminary was launched and which was possibly closely tied to the group inside Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration. It is said that one specific goal of the group is to be active in favor of candidates of the government group for the 2013 presidential elections.”
The name of the new group is Tashakole Asatide Sotuh Ali va Kharej Hoze Elmie (i.e., the Association of the Senior Teachers of Qom Theological Seminary). Cleric Ali Ehtesham s a member of the ruling central council of the group which will hold its first gathering under the title of Seminary in Support of the Regime (hoze poshtibane nezam) and be introduced by Mohammad Yazdi, the head of the JMHEQ and Mahmoud Shahrudi, the head of the Council for Conflict Resolution of the Three Branches of Government.
The formation of this new group brought forth an immediate response from ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi and ayatollah Safi Golpaygani, two grand ayatollah’s in Qom. Shirazi said, “The current association of teachers has been created with the cooperation of the teachers association and the faculty which through its charter acts in unison and in an organized manner to strengthen the regime and its leadership and therefore there is no need for others to create a new grouping within the seminary.” He warned, “I inform this group that what they are doing is not in the interests of the seminary or the state. We must strive to implement the seminary’s unified programs with greater unity because the seminary needs unity and order. Confrontation and creating a new group against the seminary is not right, especially when the issue of elections is part of the calculation. This is not acceptable and the seminary should not be a tool for elections.”
Shirazi’s reference to the group’s connection to elections relates to its affiliation to the government’s presidential candidate.
Golpaygani also reacted and said, “It appears that ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi and ayatollah Yazdi, who will be the first speakers in the official inauguration of the group may not be fully aware of the goals of this group that is aligned with the government.”
Golpaygani further said that the key members of the new group were trying to convey the message that the current teachers group which has been active for 10 years now, is not a good supporter of the revolution. He further clarified his view by saying, “Some senior members of the seminary believe that this is a pro-Mahmoud Ahmadinejad group for the purpose of advancing its ideas in the 2013 elections which would result in a division in the body of the seminary.”
Based on published reports, unlike other traditional principlist groups such as JRM, the JMHEQ continues to support Ahmadinejad’s administration creating a deep disagreement with the senior clerics in Qom.
In a related news report, a reformist newspaper wrote last week that Hashemi Shahrudi (a pro administration principlist) could be a presidential candidate in 2013, something that the cleric’s office immediately denied. But if the government’s formal candidate is disqualified from running in the race, Shahrudi could be a good choice for pro-government forces.
Media opponents of the administration have spoken of Esfandiar Rahim Mashai as being a potential government presidential candidate in 2013. But principlists view him to be the leader of a group known as the “deviant current” within the administration, meaning that he has deviated from the true path of the revolution and does not enjoy the support of the supreme leader.
The Third Party
Despite the serious differences between the JRM and the JMHEQ, there is a third group regarding the presidential elections that is active and has a base in Qom, like the other two groups, and is led by ultra conservative cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.
The Steadfast Front was formed on the eve of the elections for the ninth Majlis under the leadership of Mesbah Yazdi and included such personalities as Sadegh Mahsuli, Kamran Lankarani, Ruhollah Hosseinian, Morteza Agha Tehrani, Hamid Rasai, Mehdi Kutchakzadeh, Haddad Adel and some other former members of Ahmadinejad’s cabinet.
They held their first election gathering last week in Tehran with Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, the former speaker of the Majlis whose son is married to Khamenei’s daughter. His name also is mentioned in the media as a potential presidential candidate from the Steadfast Front. Some analysts believe that the Steadfast Front will most likely unite with the new group that has been formed in the seminary.
Three Possible Candidates from JRM
A day after the JRM gathering, Ali Asghari a cleric close to Hashemi Rafsanjani announced that one possible presidential candidate could emerge from amongst Rafsanjani, Nategh Nouri and Hassan Rowhani. These three are members of the ruling circle in the JRM who have not been participating in the group’s meetings since the disputed 2009 presidential elections that returned Ahmadinejad to the presidency.
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