The Foundation for Democracy in Iran brought two senior Iranian oppositionto clerics Washington, DC this week, to meet with U.S. policy-makers, academics,journalists, and other leaders of democratic Iranian opposition groups.
The two clerics, Ayatollah Mehdi Rouhani and Molavi Ali Akbar Mollahzadeh,jointly addressed a lunch co-hosted by the Foundation for Democracy inIran and the American Enterprise Institute - the first time ever that asenior Iranian Sunni and Shiite cleric have shared a podium to denouncethe Tehran regime. FDI's Executive Director, Kenneth R. Timmerman, calledthe meeting "historic," and said that bringing together democraticopposition leaders from different organizations was part of FDI's "mission."(Textof Mr. Timmerman's statement).
Ayatollah Rouhani is a Shiite cleric and member of the FDI board, whosebrother, Grand Ayatollah Sadegh Rouhani, has been under house arrest inQom since 1985. Dr. Rouhani argued that "the ruling clerics have betrayedIslam, and they have betrayed the Iranian people." He called the recentelection of Hojj. Mohammad Khatemi as president of Iran "a clear rejectionby the Iranian people of the hand-picked candidate of the regime"and "a disavowal of the system of Velayat-e faghih [religious rule]."
Dr. Rouhani said he remains in touch with senior clerics inside Iran."Allof the Grand Ayatollahs today are opposed to this regime, and they representa powerful, popular force that should be reckoned with." He calledfor the clergy to withdraw from politics and to "leave governmentto more competent professionals. "
Molavi Ali Akbar Mollahzadeh, who joined Dr. Rouhani at AEI and at meetingssponsored by FDI with other democratic opposition leaders, is one of themost senior Sunni Muslim clerics in Iranian Balouchistan. He left Iranin 1991 for Pakistan, where Iranian intelligence agents fired 30 bulletsinto his car in an assassination attempt. On March 4, 1996, the regimeassassinated his brother, Molavi Abdulmalek Mollahzadeh. Since then, hehas lived in hiding.
Molavi Ali Akbar argued that religious discrimination against SunniMuslims and other non-Shias has fueled a virtual insurrection in Balouchistan,where Tehran has deployed several brigades of crack anti-riot troops andunits from two Revolutionary Guards divisions since 1994. The religiousrepression against Iranian Sunnis was so extensive, he said, that "onemillion Sunni Muslims in Tehran have no mosque in which they can pray."
Read an interviewwith Molavi Ali Akbar that appeared in the latest issue of The Iran Brief.
The opposition of Iran's Sunni and Shia Muslim clergy has received littleattention in the West, since the Tehran regime refuses to allow accessto emprisoned members of the clergy. Similarly, the plight of Iran's SunniMuslim minorities (Kurds, Balouchis, Turmomens, Arabs, and others) if virtuallyunknown outside of the region. Sunni Muslims account for approximately30 percent of Iran's 60 million population, and live mainly along Iran'sborders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Iraq, aswell as along the Persian Gulf.
Dr. Rouhani also addressed the Board of Directors of the JewishInstitute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a Washington, DC thinktank, on June 2, where he made an impassioned plea for better understandingamong Muslims, Jews, and Christians, and urged Jews to join him in creatinga worldwide "Monotheistic Front." Since the underlying ideologyof the Islamic Republic "is not drawn from the Koran, it is thereforeun-Islamic," he said.
Dr. Rouhani explained that Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers "havedivided the world into two camps: Those who support their ideology, whomthey call the "Hezballah" - or Party of God; and those who donot, whom they call "Taghout" - or Partisans of the Devil. Theybelieve it is their duty to eradicate the Taghout wherever they may be,"Dr. Rouhani added. "This explains their ideology of the Export ofthe Revolution and why they send terrorists and commandos around the worldto subvert their neighbors and assassinate their political opponents. Theybelieve that all means are justified in reaching their goal of convertingthe whole world into the Hezbollah."
Molavi Ali Akbar and Dr. Rouhani met with senior U.S. officials at theDepartment of Defense, and with other officials from the State Departmentand the United States Congress during their week in Washington. Both urgedthe United States to "stay the course" in maintaining pressure- including economic sanctions - against the Tehran regime.
Asked what the United States should do if solid evidence emerges ofan Iranian hand in the Khobar Towers bombing in Dhahran, Dr. Rouhani saidhe felt that a military reprisal would be useless, and that "it wouldbe better to support the opposition."
For further information contact Kenneth R. Timmerman, Executive Director,Foundation for Democracy in Iran. Tel: (301) 946-2918. Fax: (301) 942-5341.