TEHRAN, Iran – The spiritual father of Iran’s reform movement died Sunday at the age of 87, prompting thousands of his followers to immediately head to the holy city of Qom where the dissident cleric is to be buried.
A huge display of mourning for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri could transform his funeral today into another display of power by the opposition, whose activists have for months defied a brutal crackdown, a mass trial and abuses in detention to denounce the country’s hard-line clerical rulers. Opposition leaders called for people to turn out for a day of mourning.
Montazeri was a key figure in the 1979 Islamic Revolution who later accused his fellow clerical leaders of imposing dictatorship in the name of Islam. His criticism persisted after June’s disputed presidential election ignited a new wave of anti-government protest.
In particular, he opened the door to direct condemnation of the ruling clerics, a bold step that energized Iran’s young activists. In August, he decried the “despotic treatment” of protesters at the hands of the ruling theocracy. A month later, he accused the regime of committing “crimes … in the name of Islam.”
Despite his stature, Montazeri’s death is not likely to have a profound impact on the opposition movement, which has moved past allegations of vote rigging to assert that the entire ruling system has been corrupted, said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at the United Arab Emirates University.
“I think the current opposition movement has gone way beyond and above what Montazeri was standing for,” Abdulla said.