The majority of clerics at Qom Seminary are against Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the seminary's deputy dean announced on August 26.
Mohamad Hassan Nabavi said in an interview with the Khabar Online news website that the politically influential conservative-dominated seminary, however, "did not participate" in a recent rally in Qom in which clerics implicitly threatened Rouhani with death.
Nabavi was referring to a protest rally against “financial corruption” held on August 16 at Iran’s major Shi’ite seminary in the city of Qom that turned into a demonstration against Rouhani. One of the posters carried by clerics in that rally implicitly threatened Rouhani with the fate of his mentor and ex-president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died under suspicious circumstances in a swimming pool in January 2017.
As the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and the country’s economy went into a tailspin, conservatives intensified their attacks on Rouhani, blaming him for advocating negotiations with the U.S. and for rampant corruption.
The religious establishment, most clerics and seminaries are directly or indirectly dependent on assistance and favors from networks controlled by the Supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
This raises the question whether Khamenei knew about the anti-Rouhani outburst by loyal clerics beforehand and did not act to stop it.
Although most of the clerics at the rally appeared to be seminary students, Nabavi said he did not know which institution had organized the event.
Media reports speculated that the rally was organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which quickly denied involvement.
"There are regulations about demonstrations," he said, probably alluding to the regulations that call on the organizers of rallies to seek permission from the Interior Ministry.
Nabavi criticized the slogans that were interpreted as death threats against Rouhani. "It was a mistake," he said. "Does that really mean that we wanted to kill the president?"
He clarified though that "the majority of the seminary does not agree with the Rouhani administration" about the way it runs the affairs of the state.
Nabavi, who strongly opposed Rouhani's election as president in May 2017, added, "The acts of anyone who promotes corruption and makes concessions to those who do not observe hijab in order to win their votes would be against the religious law even if he wins the election."
The administration-owned newspaper Iran quoted the controversial rally's organizers as having said, "The seminary's political center was the organizer of the rally, and it was the office of the seminary's deputy dean that supported organizing the demonstration."
The Iran newspaper report said the IRGC Imam Sadeq Brigade and the Seminary Teachers' Association organized the demonstration.
The Seminary Teachers' Association is a right-wing group based in Qom that supported hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi in the 2017 presidential elections.
Hossein Tayebifar, the commander of Imam Sadeq Brigade, an IRGC unit formed of seminary teachers and students, was one of the speakers at the August 16 anti-Rouhani rally, the Iran newspaper wrote.
Shafaqna, a website that covers stories related to the Qom Seminary, published photos of the gathering, including images that show Tayebifar and a member of the Cultural Revolution Supreme Council, Hassan Rahimpoor Azghadi, addressing the crowd. The images also show seminarians carrying banners and posters directly condemning Rouhani and his foreign policy.
In spite of the incriminating evidence, the IRGC denied involvement in the rally after two high-ranking clerics, Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani, condemned the rally and the threats to Rouhani.
In another development, Iranian media reported that Mansour Arzi, an outspoken eulogist who often performs in the presence of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, repeated the death threat against Rouhani at a religious ceremony in Tehran a few days after the Qom rally. Videos of his statements have been widely published on social media.
According to Laya Jonaidi, deputy president for legal affairs, the President’s Office will file a complaint against "those who have insulted Rouhani," and a spokesman for the judiciary said on August 26 that the Special Clerical Court will investigate the case.