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Iranian Sunni Leaders Mull Candidate Endorsement

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

Sunni religious and prominent community figures in Iran have agreed to form a Strategic Council to hold discussions with the presidential candidates about their “political demands” and problems facing the Sunni community before deciding which candidate they will endorse.

According to SunniOnline, a website that reports news and issues related to the Sunni community in Iran, a strategic meeting was convened on May 7 with the participation of religious leaders, academic personalities, political leaders, and Sunni representatives from various Iranian provinces. The meeting was called by Mawlana Abdol-Hamid, the renowned Sunni religious leader in the city of Zahedan.

The participants of the gathering agreed to form a Strategic Council to negotiate with the main presidential candidates of the two political currents on the demands of the Sunni community. Iran’s presidential election will take place on May 19, and incumbent President Hassan Rouhani -- who heads the so-called reformist bloc -- faces off against two conservative rivals representing a more hardline front.

The proposed council would formulate issues facing the Sunni community. Some of these issues, according to the report, also concern the country’s non-Sunni population and would form the basis of negotiations with the candidates.

The report does not mention any details related to the issues in question, but in recent days, Abdol-Hamid spoke out about Sunnis “having a share in the country’s management” and a “guarantee for religious freedoms” being the main demands of the community.

He reiterated that “the best candidate would be someone more helpful and effective for the people of Iran and specifically the Sunnis, who face more problems.”

The conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, has held a number of meetings with Sunni leaders on the campaign trail to various provinces and has listened to their concerns.

Some news reports in Iran have said Abdol-Hamid backs Rouhani, but his office has denied the allegation.

Sunnis are the largest religious minority in Iran, comprising up to 9 percent of the population. During the four decades since the Iranian Revolution, Sunnis have lost some of their civic rights, such as holding high offices. They have also been barred from having mosques and religious centers in the capital, Tehran.