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Rouhani, Hard-Liners Spar Over Religious Compulsion


Iran Supreme Leader's representative to the IRGC, Ali Saeedi (2nd L).

The Supreme Leader’s representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, mid-ranking cleric Ali Saeedi, has opened a new round of attacks against President Hassan Rouhani, this time over the government’s role as a religious guide versus the free will of the Iranian people.

“One of the responsibilities of a theocracy is paving the way for people to enter heaven,” he said on August 29, in response to Rouhani’s comments from earlier that day.

“We believe it’s up to the people to choose between hell and heaven,” Rouhani had said, echoing a similar statement he’d made in May 2014 that triggered a fiery reaction from the hard-liner allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“We can’t drag people to heaven by force or with a whip,” he said at the time, speaking at a healthcare conference in Tehran. "We shouldn't interfere in people's lives like that, even out of compassion. Let them choose their own path to heaven. The Prophet [Mohammad] did not carry a whip in his hand.”

This debate goes to the roots of the regime’s relations with the Iranian people. Suppressing social freedoms and constantly interfering in the way people act in their daily lives, is perhaps the most annoying policy for the ordinary people.

At the time, hard-liner cleric and Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami hit back with full force a few days later, implying that Rouhani is, in fact, misleading people toward hell.

“We do not want to send anyone to heaven by force, but with your statements, do not pave the way to hell for anyone,” he said.

Another hard-liner ayatollah, Ahmad Alam al-Hoda, Friday Prayer leader in Mashhad, also joined in back in 2014 and reminded the president, “We will confront with full force those who want to prevent people from going to heaven, and not only with a whip in our hands.”

Rouhani’s recent comments brought the debate back into the spotlight. “We must act as a guide and show the right path to the people. Nevertheless, it is still up to the people themselves to choose the right path or, God forbid, pick the way toward aberration,” he said.

Saeedi fired back, saying, “We are trailblazers,” and citing a “global responsibility.”

“While we are obliged to build up our nation and our country, we should also pave the way for [the Shi’ite Hidden Imam’s] reappearance,” he maintained.

Rouhani has not yet reacted to Saeedi’s comments.

However, he did not shy away from lambasting his hard-liner adversaries in 2014.

“Some people seriously have nothing better to do,” Rouhani said during a speech in front of environmental officials, without addressing his adversaries by name.

“They have no work, no profession; they are delusional. They worry incessantly about people’s religion and the afterlife. They know neither what religion is nor the afterlife, but they’re always worried,” Rouhani added to applause.

Over the past four years, Khamenei and Rouhani have time and again tacitly criticized one another. However, the volume of attacks against Rouhani has decreased since his re-election this past May and the defeat of the conservatives.

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