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Ideology Of Pure Islamic Rule Serves Power Politics In Iran

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The ayatollah who was the fervent proponent of pure Islamic rule as distinct from the Islamic Republic died in 2021, politicians using his ideology were gaining power in Iran.

Iranians had all but consigned Ayatollah Mohamad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi to the annals of history. However the ascension of President Ebrahim Raisi to power in 2021, following Mesbah-Yazdi’s passing that same year, brought the cleric’s influence back into sharp focus. The political landscape of Iran shifted once more as Paydari seized control of the government and parliament.

Prior to the 2010s, Mesbah-Yazdi remained largely obscure, save for his association with populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose rise to power was aided by Mesbah-Yazdi’s disciples. Those familiar with him understood his contentious relationship with the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, stemming from Mesbah-Yazdi’s early opposition to Khomeini’s revolutionary ideals before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Mesbah Yazdi’s reluctance to engage in overt political activities until after Khomeini’s demise, likely stemmed from this antagonism. It was only with the ascent of Ali Khamenei to Iran’s leadership in 1989 that Mesbah-Yazdi emerged from obscurity, advocating for Khamenei’s authority as the direct conduit between God and the populace. Mesbah-Yazdi contended that Khamenei’s appointment was divinely ordained, bypassing the need for electoral or popular validation, positioning him akin to a prophet who could transmit God’s law without intermediary.

An event of the Paydadri party

In a recent report about Mesbah-Yazdi, Iran’s Rouydad24 website wrote that Mesbah was born in 1934 in Yazd in central Iran where he later studied at the seminary before leaving for An-Najaf in Iraq to continue his studies. However, he returned to Iran after only one year and continued his studies at the religious school of Ayatollah Boroujerdi and then Ayatollah Khomeini.

It was in Qom that he further developed his theory of pure Islamic (Shiite) state partly in collaboration with former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former Judiciary Chief Mohammad Beheshti who later disagreed with his radical totalitarian ideas. Later, he studied at the Haqqani Madrasah, which was established in the 1950s as a place to politicize Shiism. The Madrasah is today notorious for producing some of the most violent militant clerics that ruled in Iran during the first decades of the Islamic Republic.

It was at this Madrasah that Mesbah-Yazdi published a journal named Enteqam [Revenge] which propagated hate speech and violence against the secularist monarchy.

His glorification of violence in the 1990s and 2000s, which led to the mass murder of intellectuals by government agents revealed the practical implication of the school of thought he developed during that period. Coupled with a paranoia about “infiltration” by “others” his ideas turned into something sinister and dangerous. Rouydad24, quoted him as having said in July 2002: “Identify the Satanic mercenary elements. Silence any opposition to the Supreme Leader. If they are ignorant, explain the matter to them, but if they have ill intentions, kill them by strangulating them!”

Despite Mesbah-Yazdi’s influence on political rhetoric, particularly within the Paydari Party, his ideas often remained superficially understood, with many adherents prioritizing self-interest over ideological fidelity. The prevailing ethos among Paydari members emphasized personal gain, be it financial resources or political power, often at the expense of Mesbah-Yazdi’s original principles. His ideology was and remains a useful tool for those who want to monopolize power using a rallying point.

As Paydari consolidates its grip on Iranian politics, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) emerges as a potential counterbalance. With over 70 IRGC officers reportedly serving in the Majles, including influential figures like Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, they represent a formidable force capable of tempering Paydari’s dominance, ensuring a delicate equilibrium within Iran’s political arena.

According to one of the latest headcounts, at least 24 top officers of the IRGC were members of the outgoing parliament, including Ghalibaf. They may not represent a large bloc, but their influence is undeniable as Khamenei uses them to counterbalance Paydari.