Iran’s Assembly of Experts convened its 16th session without its speaker Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, who suffered a heart attack in early June and fell into a coma. The meeting of the assembly, which is constitutionally tasked with supervising and choosing the supreme leader, was led by deputy speaker Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheib, the assembly representative from Fars province, refused to attend the session in protest, although he said he would attend future sessions if he found it necessary.
When his students asked via his website why he refused to attend, the prominent Reformist cleric responded, “I have written notes from the highest officials to the lowest officials … regarding the incident in Shiraz. I have also written the president some letters and other letters to the elders. Unfortunately, there has been no answer from the judiciary, … which shows that it is not independent, and at the same time there has been no answer from the president, because they will say he defended the sedition.”
The “incident in Shiraz” is a reference to the attack on his mosque in September 2010 by Basiji and others in plain clothes. Ayatollah Dastgheib supported opposition protests that rejected former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election claiming fraud. In his response, he also wrote that he had asked officials to investigate the election violations of 2005 and 2009 but had not yet heard anything.
Ayatollah Dastgheib added that he also has a complaint against Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi because intelligence officials from Tehran had been questioning clerics from Shiraz. He wrote that these officials are trying to prove that they don’t care who is in office and will continue to do what they’ve always done.
Ayatollah Shahroudi spoke on a variety of issues, including the “victory of Gaza and Hamas over the tyrant Zionist regime.” He said that the current unrest and terrorist activities in the Middle East are “a sedition built by America, Israel and their regional allies, and this requires Shiite and Sunni clerics to become active” in countering it.
Four of the 86 members of the Assembly of Experts have died since the last session. Their pictures were placed on seats next to former assembly speaker Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was offered a front row seat out of respect by the other members, Iranian media outlets reported.
President Hassan Rouhani and his brother Hossein Fereydoun also attended the session. The picture of Rouhani greeting his most vocal critic, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, who once mockingly accused Rouhani of studying at a seminary in England rather than Qom, was a top news item on Iranian websites.
On the second day of the session, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, spoke to the assembly in place of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. According Hojat al-Islam Mojtaba Taheri, the Assembly of Expert’s representative from Qom, Soleimani was unable to speak and Shamkhani took his place. Shamkhani discussed regional issues, including the situations in Iraq, Syria and Palestine and “takfiri groups.”