After May polls showed that Ahmadinejad would lose the election, Ayatollah Yazdi gave the Interior Ministry employees a Fatwa authorizing the changing of votes.
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There is, perhaps, no greater potential for evil than the power ofpriests speaking in the name of God.

With this power, one Iranian Ayatollah, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi -- thespiritual leader of President Ahmadinejad -- seems to have stolen theIranian election, to have justified the now-ongoing arrests ofreformers, and to be trying to eliminate such democracy in Iran as nowexists.

According to an open letter of early June by a group of employees whowork on elections in the Interior Ministry -- after May polls showed thatAhmadinejad would lose the election -- Yazdi gave the Interior Ministryemployees a Fatwa, a religious degree, authorizing the changing of votes.

The Ayatollah told them: "If someone is elected the president and hurtsthe Islamic values . . . it is against Islam to vote for that person."After harshly criticizing the other candidates (Mousavi, Karroubi, andRezaie) he went on: "You should throw away those who are unqualified,both morally and lawfully."

The letter reported that the elections' supervisors subsequently became"happy and energetic for having obtained the religious Fatwa to use anytrick for changing the vote and began immediately to develop plans forit." (The letter indicated that the same thing had been done in March2006 to help fundamentalists allied with Ahmadinejad in that election.But when the Interior Minister at that time, Mostafa Pourmohammadi,reported these irregularities to the Supreme Leader, he was fired byPresident Ahmadinejad.)

Among other things, the election supervisors reduced the number ofvoting stations, increased the number of mobile voting stations, reducedthe number of eligible voters, insisted that vote-containing boxes musthave two official seals, and printed 12,000,000 more ballots than werenecessary.

Yazdi has been called the most conservative and influential cleric inQom. He espouses complete isolation from the West and proclaimsnonliteral interpretations of the Koran to be heretical. He is said tohave great influence with the Revolutionary Guards and the Basijiparamilitary force. In 1997, he is said to have encouraged them to useany means, including violence, to stop reform agitation. In 2006, hesaid to use atomic bombs had religious legitimacy. Above all, he wouldlike to eliminate the democratic element in the Iranian system.

Now, following four years of appointments made by President Ahmadinejad,Yazdi has many loyal supporters in the Government, including the head ofthe election commission.

A perfect political storm has arisen in Iran. Ironically, May pollsshowing that democracy might prevail in Iran have created conditionsthat could lead to the loss of such democracy as exists in Iran.

A weird president, mentored by a fundamentalist Ayatollah, may now useongoing arrests to eliminate, politically if not physically, his reformopposition and then govern by repression. Recent unconfirmed reportssuggest that Mohammad Asgari, an interior ministry official who hadreportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged, has beenkilled in a suspicious car accident in Tehran.

Nonviolent opposition is the only answer. And protests are, after all,widespread and not only in Tehran. They have spread to Isfahan, Ahwaz,Shiraz, Gorgan, Tabriz, Rasht, Babol, Mashhad, Zahedan, Qazvin, Sari,Karaj, Tabriz, Shahsavar, Orumieh, Bandar Abbas, Arak, and Birjend. Manyof these cities do not have riot police. The revolutionary guards andthe Basiji have to be dispatched to many sites -- and an order to crackdown everywhere could be more than the authorities would dare.

The Iranian reform movement is trying to seize the high ground, to avoidviolence, and to appeal to the forces of repression not to use force.With the world watching, and with so many new techniques ofcommunication, it may be that the reformers can give the authorities arun for their money. But it will take an awful lot of Iranian courageand ingenuity to make it work.

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