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A supreme loss of faith

The social contract between the Ayatollahs and the people of Iran has snapped

india Updated: Jun 24, 2009 23:42 IST

Something much more fundamental than a public demand for a re-poll has been underway in Iran over the last week.

What we are witnessing is a palpable break in the social contract between the people of Iran and the theocracy that has ruled the country since the imposition of the ‘velayat-e faqih’, or rule by the Supreme Jurist in early 1979.

On the surface, the public outrage was against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly rigging the June 12 elections.

But the public frustration turned to genuine ire when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader and the man who has been holding the cranks and pulleys of Iranian spiritual, moral and political life for the last 20 years, declared that Mr Ahmadinejad was indeed the victor and that his victory was a “divine assessment”.

This kind of theological sanction has been part and parcel of Iranian political rhetoric. But this time, even as Mr Khamenei admitted that there may have been some electoral hanky-panky, the people of Iran are not buying this ‘divine’ line.

It is this blasé take of the Guardian Council — the country’s supreme constitutional body — on the whole matter, which has left millions of Iranians stunned, breaking their faith in the old arrangement with the Ayatollahs.

Whatever be the outcome of the protests — and many fear there will be serious reprisals against the protestors that will follow — the Council, the bedrock on which the Islamic Republic of Iran exists — has been seriously shaken. Mr Ahmadinejad’s challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi is a lightning rod for this breakdown between the State and the people.

In a way, Western governments making initial encouraging noises about a ‘change’ coming in Tehran may have hardened Mr Khamenei’s position against Mr Mousavi. The protesters, too, have not been demanding any ‘Western-friendly’ regime change of the kind easily retro-fitted to popular ‘colour-coded’ uprisings in Europe, but have demanded their rights as proud, nationalistic Iranians.

What is happening on Iran’s streets is the country’s internal matter. Which makes it even more necessary for Mr Khamenei, if not his in-for-the-politics protégé, to see to it that the violence against the people of Iran stops.