Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a prominent Iranian Shiite religious leader, has called on authorities to prevent “infiltrators” from entering Iran’s holy city of Qom, . Shirazi, who is based in Qom and had requested a “special budget” for the city a few months ago, said on Monday that the govenrment needs to pay more attention to Qom than any other city in the country. “The dignity of this city is the dignity of the Shiites, and its problems are also problems of the Shiite world,” the hardliner cleric was quoted in the Iranian media as saying in a meeting with the mayor of Qom on Monday. Shirazi further warned that increasing migration into the city poses serious challenges to Qom.

Comments: Shirazi’s comments reflect deep worries of Iran’s religioush establishment about growing anti-regime sentiments in the country. The holy city of Qom, a historic powerbase of the Iranian regime since 1979, was not immune to antigovernment protests that engulfed Iran in late December and early January. Scores of Iranians took to the streets in Qom and chanted slogans against the govenrment and the religious establishment.

But Shirazi’s remarks will probably turn more Qom residents against the regime, as one of the key grievances of the latest protest movement in Iran was against the government’s generous allocations to the country’s religious institutions at a time when ordinary Iranians are struggling economically. Just before the protests began, the Rouhani govenrment had released details of the government’s budget for the new year, which showed an increase in allocations for Shiite seminaries and other religious institutions.