London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iran’s supreme leader recommended against spreading ideological dogma and divisive comments in a meeting with groups of religious orators, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported on Wednesday. This may be an attempt to reduce tensions in the run up to the country’s presidential poll scheduled for June 14.
Religious oratory, or maddahi, is a traditional Shi’a ritual in which a devout layperson recounts a historical narrative about the suffering of the Ahl-al-beyt (the Prophet Mohammad and his family) and Shi’ite imams. Its role before the revolution was largely confined to private religious ceremonies held at mosques and the houses of devout Shi’ites. However, this changed after the revolution of 1979, and in particular since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became Iran’s head of state in 1989.
Shi’ite orators have gained significant influence over public opinion in religious and political matters over the last two decades. They have also acted as the unofficial leaders of pressure groups dedicated to enforcing their own ideas of Islamic norms, organizing street protests and the storming of cinemas and bookstores judged to be subversive, often beating the customers of those businesses.
Both Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyed Mohammad Khatami’s governments had to contend with opposition from religious orators, which occasionally undermined their authority.
During Ahmadinejad’s first presidential campaign in 2005, many prominent maddahs declared their full support for him, describing him as a pious individual, free of corruption and dedicated to the tenets of the Islamic revolution.
But due to Ahmadinejad’s adamant support of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, many of his former advocates among the ranks of the maddahs have turned against him over the past four years.
At this juncture, more political and ideological rancor is the last thing Iran’s supreme leader desires. Any bitterness and instability due to political rhetoric during the presidential elections will likely complicate attempts to deal with Iran’s nuclear negotiations, strict Western economic sanctions and, above all, Ahmadinejad’s disobedience and attempts to branch out from his original political and religious constituency.
In a parallel development—and in line with Ahmadinejad’s repeated threats to reveal embarrassing information as part of his feud with his opponents—Tehran newspapers published an unconfirmed report from an anonymous source close to Ahmadinejad revealing his real number of votes in 2009’s disputed election on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the news website Baztab published what it alleged was an excerpt of an audio recording in which Ahmadinejad holds a conversation with a top election official, who informs the president that his “real vote is about 16 million.”
According to the recording, the same official then told the president that a decision had been made to announce that he had received 24 million votes to make his victory seem more categorical, and preempt claims from the opposition that the poll was rigged.
The report said Ahmadinejad objected to that move and demanded that he be declared the winner on the basis of the actual number of votes he received.
Ahmadinejad’s office denied the existence of such a recording on Wednesday.