In Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani supports the protest

The portrait of Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani during protests in the governorate in Basra on 16 November. Laurent Van der Stockt for Le Monde

In an alley in the old city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, guarded by armed men, close to the sacred shrine of Imam Ali, patron saint martyr of Shiism, lives reclusive man most listened to Iraq. Revered by millions of Shiites in the world at the age of 89, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani remains the only authority in the country not yet fully delegitimized in the eyes of those who, sincest October, claim in Baghdad and in the South Shiite "The fall of the regime".

Even those who are still more numerous to refuse his line are scrutinizing the sermons of the great marja – "source of imitation" among Shiites – read by its representatives during the Friday prayer. Their tone depends on the magnitude of the crowd present on sit-ins and the pressure placed on politicians to access their demands.

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"This movement is protected by Ayatollah Al-Sistani. He did not invite people to demonstrate, but he observes the trend of the people and accompanies it. He gave the movement a legitimacy and a reason for their demands "explains the Sayyed (descendant of the Prophet) Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ouloum, one of his relatives. From the first week, the " old sage " called on the political class to reform. After the first victims of the deadly crackdown that left at least 340 dead, he urged the government to open an independent investigation and to respect the "Holiness" Iraqi blood. "When the movement has hardened, he raised his voice", adds the director of the Al-Alamein Institute, referring to the call, on November 11, Sayyed Al-Sistani to continue the challenge until justice.

Nationalist reference

The position of the big marja did not surprise. Born in 1930 in Mashhad, Iran, and emigrated to Iraq at the age of 22, he imposed himself on the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 as the nationalist and quietist reference venerated by a majority of the 23 million Iraqi Shiites, and is respected by Sunnis for its moderation and denial of confessionalism. Favorable to a civil government, he never stopped denouncing the drift patronage and confessional of a corrupt elite that he helped to put in power. He had given blanket status to the 2005 Constitution and the confessional distribution system of posts, and blessed the Shiite religious parties, who are now conspired on the streets. "It was they who surrounded him and put himself under his djellaba. They caressed him in the direction of the hair », justifies Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ouloum.

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