July 6, 2009 10:02AM

A Defense for Iranian Reformers

Although the regime in Tehran finally succeeded in suppressing demonstrations protesting the fraudulant elections, other voices are being raised in Iran in defense of democracy. Reports the Wall Street Journal:

Some members of Iran’s powerful clerical class are stepping up their antigovernment protests over Iran’s election in defiance of the country’s supreme leader, bringing potential aid to opposition figures as the regime is increasingly labeling them foreign‐​sponsored traitors.

An influential group of religious scholars seen as politically neutral during the presidential election called the country’s highest election arbiter, the Guardian Council, biased, and said the June 12 election was “invalid.” Earlier, it had endorsed the official result that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated Mir Houssein Mousavi and other challengers by a wide margin.

The group, with no government role, has little practical ability to change the election outcome. But its new posture may carry moral weight with Iranians after security forces have quashed street protests and jailed hundreds of opposition supporters.

It highlights a growing unease among Iran’s scholarly ruling class about the direction of the country, and questions the theological underpinning of the Islamic Republic: that the supreme leader and the institutions under him are infallible.

“I’m not sure of the Persian equivalent of ‘crossing the Rubicon,’ but we are seeing it now. The future of the Islamic Republic, which has in recent years become a fig leaf for keeping a small clique of people in power, is now in question,” said Michael Axworthy, director of Exeter University’s Center for Persian and Iranian Studies in the U.K.

The U.S. isn’t going to be able to bring liberty to the Iranian people. Only they will be able to throw the repressive political establishment overboard. But this break within the Islamic establishment, with respected religious leaders denouncing repression, is a critical step forward. 

The Iranian people deserve better. For nearly six decades they have suffered, first under the Shah, and second under the Islamic theocracy. They deserve to be free.