Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iran’s most senior Sunni cleric, Sheikh Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, stressed that whoever emerges victorious in Friday’s presidential elections will have limited options with regards to tackling Sunnis’ affairs in Iran.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ismaeelzahi emphasized that decisions relating to Iran’s Sunni minority are made by other authorities in Tehran, a tacit reference to Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On his official Facebook page, Ismaeelzahi emphasized that some candidates, in an attempt to secure Sunni voters, made promises to the Sunni minority. However, he said that “no one knows whether they will fulfill their promises on the ground if they win,” adding that they may not be allowed to do so.
“The president can fulfill some of his promises within a limited scope,” he said.
The Sunni cleric dismissed claims that he had directed Sunnis to vote for any particular candidate in Friday’s elections, expressing his support for any candidate that is “able to [end] the state of marginalization, combat sectarian discrimination against Sunnis, and pursue a moderate [policy] regarding Iran’s different ethnic minorities and Islamic sects.”
However, Ismaeelzahi acknowledged that he objected to the disqualification of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, describing this as unfair.
“It was unfair to disqualify Rafsanjani because he served the regime and the revolution,” Iran’s top Sunni cleric told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ismaeelzahi added that Hashemi Rafsanjani possesses the capabilities to resolve the problems currently facing Iran, given his experience and expertise.
When asked whether the next president will continue policies of discriminating against Iran’s Sunni minority, Ismaeelzahi said: “Given the current global situation, we hope that Sunnis’ conditions will change in Iran,” emphasizing that Iran’s Sunnis are unhappy.
“We hope this will change,” he added.
Reformist-backed candidate Hassan Rouhani appears to be maintaining a strong lead in the Iranian polls, with more than half the ballots counted. International media reports claimed that the cleric is on course to secure a majority, with Tehran major Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf his nearest challenger.