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Edward Stourton
This week's Analysis presenter - Edward Stourton

BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Ayatollogy is broadcast on Monday 19 October at 20.30 BST.

Could a battle over theology help bring about the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

President Ahmadinejad may have clung onto power after last summer's elections, but opposition to his government continues. That opposition is receiving support from an unlikely quarter - Iran's conservative clergy.

Some of the country's top theologians and clerics think that the President is bringing Islam into disrepute and they want him out.

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri
The government will not achieve legitimacy without the support of the people
Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri

In this week's Analysis, Edward Stourton explores the theological gulf that separates the Iranian government from the country's religious mainstream.

We hear about Ahmadinejad's belief in a radical strand of Shi'ite Islam which holds that the return of the messiah (known as the 'hidden imam') is imminent - and with it the end of the world - and that that faithful have a duty to hasten these events.

And we learn how claims of a special relationship between the President and the hidden imam have sparked a backlash by clerics - including accusations of heresy.

The programme contains an exclusive email interview with Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri - one of the Shi'ite world's most senior and respected clerics and one of Iran's most outspoken critics of President Ahmadinejad's government.

Iranian protesters
The young people are after democracy, they're after freedom, they're after a republic and they don't see that in an Islamic Republic
Roya Kashefi

In this interview, he calls on Iran's clergy to work with political activists to bring about reform, urging them to be "in step with the people".

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri is at the forefront of a surprising alliance that is emerging in Iran - between hard-line secularists and orthodox Muslim clerics.

Edward Stourton asks whether this alliance could lead to the collapse of the Islamic Republic as we know it and lead to a greater separation of Islam and the Iranian state.

Read more about Ahmadinejad's theological foes. Read the full text of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's email.

Interviewees include:

Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, one of Shi'ite Islam's most senior clerics.

Ayatollah Sayyed Fadhel Milani, the UK's most senior Shi'ite cleric.

Professor Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews.

Mehdi Khalaji, a Shi'ite theologian who studied in Qom and a senior fellow of the Washington Institute.

Larry Haas, a former White House advisor and vice president for policy at the Committee on the Present Danger - an American think tank.

Amir Taheri, Journalist and author of The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution.

Nazenin Moshiri, diplomatic correspondent of the London-based Iranian newspaper Kayha.

Baquer Moin, former head of the BBC's Persian Service and the author of Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah - a biography of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Roya Kashefi, chair of the human rights committee for the Association of Iranian Researchers.

Coming Up

Campaigning investigate journalist Martin Bright asks whether the truth is really always desirable or always in the wider public interest.




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Ahmadinejad's theological foes
19 Oct 09 |  Middle East
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