Both sides claim victory
October 18, 2010
In a letter published last week by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled that the decision of the Azad University board of trustees to declare the university grounds as an Islamic endowment (waqf) was illegal and should therefore be revoked. Khamenei thus took President Ahmadinejad’s side in his bitter conflict with Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the leader of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Discernment Council. In his letter, Khamenei stated that legal teams that looked into the religious and legal aspects of the decision made by the board of trustees found it to be legally problematic and that the board was not authorized to make it.
On the other hand, the Supreme Leader also instructed to reexamine amendments recently introduced in the Azad University regulations by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, headed by President Ahmadinejad, whose aim was to increase government involvement in the university’s affairs (Mehr, October 11).
The dispute over Azad University between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, who is also chairman of the university board of trustees, has been going on since Ahmadinejad’s election for president in 2005. Ahmadinejad claimed that Rafsanjani and those board members closely associated with him took advantage of their position to promote political interests, going as far as to accuse them of corruption. After the last presidential election, the president accused Rafsanjani and university president Abdollah Jasbi, considered to be Rafsanjani’s political ally, of using university resources to help reformist opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. According to sources close to the president, the university directors actively and publicly endorsed Mousavi’s candidacy and even organized students for political activity to support him.
To restrict the government’s ability to interfere with university affairs, the board of trustees announced about a year ago a decision to declare the university’s property an Islamic endowment. The purpose of such a declaration was to keep the government from taking over the university and its property. After the decision was announced, the president, in his capacity as chief of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, made two amendments in the university regulations. The amendments were aimed to significantly increase the power of government representatives and the president-led council in university affairs at the expense of its board of trustees. The amendments also put a limit on the tenure of Abdollah Jasbi, the current president of the university.
By deciding to revoke the decision made by the university board of trustees to turn university property into a “waqf”, the Supreme Leader took Ahmadinejad’s side in his conflict with Rafsanjani. His demand to abolish the change made to the university regulations by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, however, will likely severely diminish the government’s ability to meddle in university affairs in the future, and is therefore considered to be an achievement for Rafsanjani. Once again it appears, therefore, that in the current political conflict the Supreme Leader avoided categorically taking the side of either of the two political opponents.
Following Khamenei’s ruling, Rafsanjani’s website published a fragment from a press interview given by Rafsanjani several months ago, in which he claimed that Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, had supported his initiative to establish an independent, non-government-run university (Aftab, October 12).