Iran backlash after top cleric meets reformists

Yazdi is one of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) appointees to the Guardian Council. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2018

Iran backlash after top cleric meets reformists

TEHRAN: A hard-line member of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council was facing a backlash on Sunday after criticizing one of the country’s top religious figures for meeting with reformist politicians.
The dispute reflects the diversity of views within Iran’s religious elite and the fact that, well after the 1979 Islamic revolution, some senior Shiite clerics fiercely defend their independence.
The controversy started a fortnight ago when 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Musa Shobairi Zanjani — considered one of the highest religious authorities and a “marja” (or “source of emulation“) for huge numbers of Shiite Muslims — met with ex-president Mohammad Khatami and other members of the reformist camp.
Khatami was president from 1997 to 2005 but has since fallen foul of the system, especially after supporting mass protests in 2009, and is banned from leaving the country or appearing in official media.
That meeting drew a shocked response from another leading ayatollah, Mohammad Yazdi, who leads an influential conservative clerical association in Qom, regarded as Iran’s religious capital.
Yazdi is one of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s appointees to the Guardian Council, a supervisory body that has a veto over all parliamentary laws.
“Following the publication of pictures on social media of you alongside some problematic individuals who have no respect for the system of the Islamic republic and the supreme leader, I hereby state that this issue has caused concern and upset among followers and in the seminaries,” Yazdi wrote in an open letter published by the Jamaran news site.
“I would like to remind you that your status and respect are tied to your respect for the ruling Islamic system, the leadership and the status of marjas... and take steps to ensure such matters are not repeated again,” he added.
To criticize a grand ayatollah in this way was considered beyond the pale for many observers.
Abbas Salehi, minister of Islamic culture and guidance, tweeted late Saturday: “We must be careful not to weaken the pure marjas under the banner of preserving the system, and not spoil Shiite historical heritage.”
At least one ayatollah resigned from Yazdi’s religious association in protest, while another, Ayatollah Hadavi Tehrani, said the “impolite” letter to Zanjani had caused “sadness and sorrow.”
Responses continued to come from many senior officials and commentators on Sunday.
“We Shiites are proud that our noble marjas have never gotten permission from any power but glorious God and have not been bound by the constraints of any political and economic bodies,” tweeted Elisa Hazrati, a member of parliament and managing director of the reformist Etemad newspaper.


Turkey vows not to quit besieged army post in Syria

Updated 17 min 12 sec ago

Turkey vows not to quit besieged army post in Syria

  • Calls for a ‘political solution’ to the crisis 

BEIRUT: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said Ankara wants “a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” and that its soldiers “will not leave the besieged observation post south of Idlib” after Syrian regime forces took control of the area.
The recent advances by Bashar Assad’s forces have put Turkish troops stationed in the region in the firing line and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, threatening Ankara’s hopes of preventing a fresh wave of refugees on its southern border.
Speaking at a press conference in Lebanon, Cavusoglu said: “We are not there because we are unable to leave but because we do not want to.”
He denied that the Turkish forces are isolated in Morek, where their largest observation post is based. He said: “This post is not encircled, and no one can isolate it. The Syrian regime forces are leading activities in the vicinity of this post, we are discussing this with Russia and Iran.”
His comments followed a telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to the Anatolia Agency, Erdogan told Putin that the “developments in Idlib would cause a major humanitarian crisis” and “undermine the process of reaching a settlement in Syria and pose a serious threat to Turkish national security.”
Cavusoglu met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Rafic Chlala, the media adviser to Aoun, told Arab News: “The Turkish official gave a presentation on the current military developments in Idlib, and a view of the future was delivered, but he did not ask anything from Lebanon.”
During a joint press conference with Bassil, Cavusoglu said: “Turkey will exchange experiences with Lebanon to return Syrian refugees to their country. Ankara understands Beirut’s suffering from the refugee crisis.”
He added: “Syrian refugees are afraid of returning to their country. This fear must be dispelled, and the international community should give greater importance to meeting the basic needs of Syrians.”
Lebanon hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Beirut estimates the real figure is over 1.5 million.
Cavusoglu proposed “to organize a joint forum with Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq on the return of Syrians and invite the international community to participate.”
During his meeting with Cavusoglu, Aoun said: “The international community’s continued disregard for the need for Syrian refugees to return to their country raises many questions.”
According to his media office, Aoun said the return of displaced people to their homes remains a common concern for Lebanon and Turkey. He reiterated that the provision of international assistance to refugees inside Syria is an important incentive for their return.
Aoun added: “Until now, Syrian refugees who have returned to Syria under the supervision of the Lebanese General Security did not suffer any persecution. The process of returning refugees will continue in turn.”
Cavusoglu said that Turkey shares Lebanon’s stance in supporting the return of refugees.
He told Aoun that Turkey will vote for Lebanon to establish the Human Academy for Encounter and Dialogue when the item is submitted to the UN on Sept. 13.
Berri’s media office said that talks with Cavusoglu included “the general situation in the region, the need to uphold the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, the importance of a political solution in Syria that ensures its unity and sovereignty and the return of refugees.”
Cavusoglu said: “Turkey views Lebanon as a neighbor and a sister country. The stability and growth of this country are very important for us and the region. We will continue to support Lebanon, and many Turkish energy companies want to invest there.”
The Turkish president will visit Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, the presidency said in a statement, days after a Turkish convoy was hit by an airstrike in Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the Putin-Erdogan meeting on Aug. 27 to the Russian agencies.