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Heavy Repression of Iranian Sufis Indicates Rohani’s Path

12:17 PM, Jul 22, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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An offensive against Gonabadi Sufis by the Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdaran) and the theocratic Basij militia has occurred in various Iranian cities. A sustained campaign against them began when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first took office as president in 2005. Sanctions against the Sufis increased during the Green movement protests claiming Ahmadinejad was reelected fraudulently in 2009. Sixty Gonabadi members were arrested in 2011.

Attacks on Sufi installations, shrines, and associated Shia meeting houses (husseiniyat) have resulted in the demolition of sacred sites, arrests in the hundreds, and large protests by Iranian citizens against the campaign of suppression.

Notwithstanding the importance of Sufism in Iranian culture, the mystics have been condemned by elements in the clerical hierarchy since the 1979 revolution that led to creation of the Islamic republic. In 2007, Grand Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani issued a fatwa from the theological center at Qom declaring “there is no place for Sufism in Islam.” He cited eighth-century Shia claims that "the Sufis are our enemies, and people with any interest in the Sufis are our enemies as well." Hamedani claimed that Sufis were a major problem for Muslim societies throughout their history, and called for “jihad against them.”

The severe treatment of the “Evin seven” Gonabadis provides evidence that the new regime, with Rohani as the public face for Khamenei, rather than moving away from the excesses of Ahmadinejad, will reinforce them. IOPHRI states that since the election of Rohani in mid-June, 49 executions by hanging have taken place in Iran.

Numerous Western observers have taken as good coin Rohani’s promises, during the election, to promulgate a “civil rights charter” that would expand women’s rights, loosen restrictions on the Internet, and permit criticism of the government. Early in July, however, Iranian authorities announced plans to assign e-mail addresses to citizens, and to create a national Internet system with limited access to the web. Iran’s “cyber-police,” the bizarrely titled “Supreme Council of Virtual Space,” known as FATA from its Persian name, has recently shut down Facebook pages, hacked opposition websites in addition to that of the Gonabadis, arrested bloggers, and, during the June presidential vote, hardened its “filtering” of websites, including some supporting the clerical state.

 On the morning of July 19, while prisoners were sleeping, ward 350 at Evin, where the Gonabadi Sufis had been detained, was raided by 150 guards, including extra personnel from another jail. The guards searched inmates, then expelled them from their cells, destroying their personal property and even vandalizing the prayer room and the electrical and air conditioning infrastructure in the ward.

The raid followed a protest by inmates against the removal on a stretcher of political prisoner Dr. Ali Nazeri, a human rights and democracy activist who is ill, to a prison in Zabol, on the eastern Iranian border with Afghanistan.

Foreign optimism about the Rohani presidency is based on speculation, surprise at the victory of a previously-obscure figure, and credulity about his rhetoric during the balloting. It fails to take account of the ongoing denial of human rights in Iran and sanctions against non-conforming elements like the Gonabadi-Nimatullahi Sufis, whose resistance to the clerical establishment has been tenacious but refined and peaceful.

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