In life, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri played a seminal role in Iran as the leading dissident cleric criticizing an increasingly hard-line, morally bankrupt and inhumane government. In death, he may have become an inspiration and rallying point for a resilient opposition that is the regime’s most significant challenge since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
When he died last weekend at the age of 87, Ayatollah Montazeri had spent most of the last two decades arguing that the clerical establishment in Tehran had abandoned the revolution’s core principles. He helped found the Islamic republic with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and was expected to succeed him as supreme leader — until he fell out of favor for objecting to a wave of executions of political prisoners in 1988.
Ayatollah Montazeri continued to issue religious edicts that advocated reform and human rights and tried to reconcile Islam with democracy. After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent election last June, the cleric sided with the opposition and argued that even in a religious state, legitimacy comes from the people.
The regime is growing more desperate at its inability to silence this internal challenge.
After hundreds of thousands of mourners turned Ayatollah Montazeri’s funeral on Monday into a protest against the regime, authorities banned further memorial services ahead of Shiite Islam’s most important religious commemoration this Sunday. On Wednesday, sec…