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In Unprecedented Move Khamenei Responds To Sunni Leader

Molavi Abdol Hamid Ismaeelzahi (L), a Sunni theologian and a spiritual leader of the Sunni community in Iran, in a meeting of Sunni clerics with president Rouhani, on Sunday December 11, 2016.

In an unprecedented gesture, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei has responded to a letter written by the most prominent Sunni cleric in Iran.

Molavi (Mawlana) Abdol-Hamid Ismaeelzahi, the Friday prayer leader of mainly Sunni populated city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province, southeast Iran, in his letter to Khamenei had criticized the regime for constant discrimination against Sunnis.

Khamenei, who had ignored Abdol-Hamid’s previous letters, this time has chosen to respond by saying, “the pillars of the Islamic Republic”, based on the constitution, are “dutybound” to refrain from discrimination against Iranian citizen.

Iran Students News Agency published the letter signed by Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, Khamenei’s Chief of Staff on his behalf on Wednesday, September 6.

In his unprecedented letter, Khamenei reiterates, ““All elements of the Islamic Republic are duty bound, in accordance with the religious teachings and the Constitution, to refrain from allowing any discrimination and inequality among Iranians from any ethnicity, race or faith”.

However, according to Article 12 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution, the official denomination of the country is Twelver Imams’ Shi’a.

Furthermore, Article 115 stipulates that high positions in the Islamic Republic ruling system, i.e. the Supreme Leadership and Presidency are exclusive to the Shi’a, therefore Sunnis, as well as followers of other religions and denominations cannot take such high positions.

Discriminations deeply institutionalized in the Islamic Republic’s laws, rules and regulations have led to elimination of religious, ethnic and non-believer minorities from electoral competitions.

Nevertheless, Khamenei has emphasized in his letter that “All Iranians should stand together and close ranks to contribute to the country’s dignity and success and not allow the enemies of this land and devil(s) related to this and that to undermine such unity”.

Moreover, in a part of the letter, the Supreme Leader’s Chief of Staff, Mohammad Golpayegani has insisted that Khamenei appreciated Molavi Abdol-Hamid’s interest in the Islamic Republic system and has also praised his support of national interests and the “highly valued Islamic principles.”

The most prominent Sunni cleric in Iran openly supported the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani in last May presidential election and called his followers to vote for him. Their support helped Rouhani to defeat his main hardliner challenger, analysts say.

Meanwhile, the senior Sunni cleric urged Rouhani to also vet Sunni elites for serving at high positions. Nonetheless, there were no Sunnis on the list of Rouhani’s nominees for ministerial jobs.

“The Sunnis are not asking too much. They are only asking for their due rights and expect to see competent and deserved Sunnis employed in high profile posts, as well”, lamented the cleric after Rouhani’s reelection.

He was not among the guests invited to participate in Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony at majlis (Iranian parliament).

Khamenei’s response to his Sunni counterpart is dated August 22 and it is not yet clear why it has been published after a delay of more than two weeks.