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Clerics In Denial Of Dissent, Blame ‘Spies, Infiltrators’ As The Press Disagree

Iranian worshipers attend the Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Jan. 5, 2018.
Iranian worshipers attend the Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Jan. 5, 2018.

A week after a new round of protests started in Iran, most notably at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Friday prayers leaders in various Iranian cities denied the existence of dissent in the bazaars and attributed the unrest to intervention by other countries, “spies, infiltrators and profiteers.”

This comes while commentaries in the Tehran press mainly blamed flawed government policy for the country’s economic crisis.

In a typical sermon, Ayatollah Seyed Abolhassan Mahdavi, who led the Friday prayers in Isfahan on Friday June 29, said “Bazaar activists were right to protest the fluctuations in the foreign currency market, but there were a group of spies, infiltrators and profiteers” taking part in the demonstrations.

Friday prayers sermon reflect the Islamic republic’s official view and echo the party line about major developments. Views expressed by Friday prayers leaders are generally orchestrated at the Friday Prayers Headquarters, a body under the supervision of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni.

Like many other Friday prayers leaders in other cities, Mahdavi insisted that the bazaar merchants were not taking part in protest demonstrations.

Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi took the same stance in an interview with Iran’s state TV on the same day, saying that protestors were not linked to the Bazaar.

Ayatollah Kazem Sediqi, Tehran’s Friday prayers leader, called for the reshuffling of President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet and said the country’s economic problems were the outcome of “ignoring the Supreme Leader’s advice.”

This cones at a time when Rouhani and his officials went out of their way this week to align their positions with those of hardliners who form the core of support for ayatollah Khamenei. In a fierce speech Rouhani himself sounded like one of hte prayer leaders, blaming the "enemy" for Iran's economic problems.

Sediqi also attributed economic problems to “mismanagement of the government,” nevertheless adding, “The enemies want to pretend that bazaar merchants are standing against the government.”

Ayatollah Mostafa Olama, the Friday prayers leader of Kermanshah, attributed economic problems to what he called “The United States’ economic war against Iran,” and called on the government to “control the situation.” He said the US was angry about the fact that Iran is the leading power in the region, adding that the US was using Iranian opposition as its spies to disrupt Iran’s economic stability.

In Mahshahr, Hojjat ol-Eslam Abdolhossein Ghabishavi advised the government “not to ignore financial problems” as the opposition group MeK (Mojahedeen-e Khalq) might take advantage of the situation.

This comes while the Iranian press on Saturday, June 30 expressed a different position. Hardline Jomhouri Eslami daily newspaper in a commentary called on Rouhani to “listen to the people.”

Centrist daily newspaper Arman pointed out that “tensions in Iran’s foreign relations are to be blamed for heavy losses in Iran’s economy,” and criticized the government and the financial foundations including those under Khamenei’s supervision for not investing in boosting employment and productivity during the past decades.

Reformist daily Bahar in a commentary opined that Rouhani is spending some of his worst days in office, while the country is facing rising prices, economic tensions and sharp declines in the value of the national currency. Bahar observed that “although there are many different reasons for this situation, yet most criticisms target Rouhani.”

While most critics call for a change in Rouhani’s economic team, Tehran’s leading economic daily Donyaye Eqtesad speculated that it is the administration’s economic policy that has to change regardless of who is in charge of its implementation.

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