In an open letter, the full text of which was published in Wednesday's reformist newspapers, Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri showed disgust at the way the country is being run in an unprecedented bitter tone. He said he could not close his eyes to "tangible realities and witness the stifling pain and unbearable suffering of the people." The once associate of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini went on with a battery of accusations against the clerical system which he had a role in its establishment in 1979.
Taheri justified his resignation of the post he had been holding for 30 years by portraying the regime as, among other things, suffering from a severe mismanagement, deception, corruption, bribery, rising unemployment and inflation, growing drug consumption, and the "infernal" gap between the rich and the poor.
In a clear reference to the hard-line vigilantes who very often disrupt the political gatherings of the reformists, including the interruption sometimes of his own sermons, Taheri talked of "lackeys and fascists" whom he branded as a "mixture of ignorance and madness," having their "umbilical cord" connected to the "centers of power." They, he said, are completely uncontrolled and beyond the law.
The ayatollah also expressed support for the dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who was once designated as successor to Ayatollah Khomeini but was later disgraced and put under house arrest some 13 years ago.
The condemnation of the religious power in Iran by Taheri, who is associated with the reformist camp, comes one month after a leading conservative cleric warned against a social explosion in the country.
Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, the deputy head of the influential and conservative-dominated Assembly of Experts -- the fully clerical body that has the authority to appoint or dismiss the country's supreme leader -- said at the time that Iran was on the verge of a social explosion.
"If popular discontent increases, as is the case, society and the regime will be threatened," Amini said, calling on officials not to disregard views of the people whom he regarded as "extremely unhappy with the current situation."
Referring to "many promises" that had been made during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the ayatollah said that the objective of the replacement of a monarchy by an Islamic republic was to implement justice and equality which, according to him, people were deprived of under the shah's regime.
Ayatollah's Amini's statement at the time was a surprise to reformists and conservatives alike as such dire warnings are usually common among reformists -- including President Mohammad Khatami. Only a few days earlier, Khatami had warned that "Our society is on the threshold of disorder." The reformist president repeated his threat to resign if he were unable to push through reforms.
"People did not vote for me but voted for justice and freedom in the framework of the constitution," Khatami said.