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Supreme Leader of Iran and His Successor

03/04/11 By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD Int. Law

Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The legitimacy of the bedrock principle underlying the Islamic Republic of Iran-the so-called velayat-e motlaqeh-ye faqih, or absolute political authority of an expert in Islamic jurisprudence-has been the subject of serious debate for many years (1). The issue assumed a more complicated dimension when Khomeini died in 1989. His successor, the present Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lacks the religious credentials of a Khomeini and enjoys little credibility among the high-ranking Shiite and non-Shiite seminary scholars. At best, he is a scholar of the third rank, which confronts him with serious jurisprudential problems.

At the same time, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now 71 years old and according to many sources, he is suffering from various physical and mental sicknesses such as prostate cancer, and paranoia. He has lost a hand and perhaps more in the bombing events in 1989.

Some of the persons who are mentioned as his possible replacement are: Mahmoud Hasehmi Sharoodi , Sadegh Larijani and Mojtaba Khamenei, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mesbah Yazadi and Sayyed Hassan Khomeini (2).

If we suppose that the regime remains in power and the Velayate Faghih persists, the most important questions for finding the replacement to the present leader are: who are the influential elements in determining the leader? What elements elected the present one and who are playing the same role at present?

When Khomeini died, the Council of Experts [Majles Khobreghan] that had 86 members was active and it voted in favor of Ali Khamenei. However this was only in the surface. The group that was actually pulling the strings in the country was: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ali Khamenei and Seyyed Ahmad Khomeini, that had the military and intelligence and the Majles and the administration under their control. Rafsanjani invoked a memory of the late leader in which (as Rafsanjani claimed) Khomeini had opted for Ali Khamenei as his replacement(3). Such a memory could remain just a memory if the influential group did not intend to make Ali Khamenei the replacement of Khomeini.

So, there was a legal procedure but it was used by the real power brokers to elect the leader. Now, at the time of the present leader, we should see who are the elements that hold the power and if necessary they can select the leader and impose him to the legal apparatus (Assembly of Experts] . Who is now holding the military, intelligence and security forces in the present day Iran? It seems that the most important power centers in the present circumstances in Iran are: the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamenei), his Office and close companions (Bayat-e Rahbari), the IRGC, and Security and intelligence forces.

The present Assembly of Experts is even more obedient than the one existed at the time of Khomeini’s death. The present collection of its members are handpicked and screened by the Guardian Council and through the process of “Nezarate Estesvabi” [interventionist supervision]. They are all special supporters of Ali Khamenei. Very few persons among them have the potential to rebel. It takes only one telephone from the security apparatus to almost all of them to make their minds.

Although at the moment Rafsanjani is at the head of the Assembly of Experts but he is not running the show. In fact, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi , the deputy of the Assembly, has acted against Rafsanjani in many occasions. The Assembly wrote a letter to the leader during the high days of the Green Movement in 2010 and supported him and in fact rejected Rafsanjani’s overtures. Under these conditions, Rafsanjani is out completely.

Hashemi Sharouidi is not a great player and he has not a big role in running the country and he was not instrumental in suppressing the opponents during the 2010 developments. He has lived in Iraq for a long time and he hardly speaks Persian. Sadegh Larijani is yet to prove himself. He is not a complicated Mullah and his performance in the government has not attracted the satisfaction of power centers in Iran.

Hassan Khomeini, due to his reputation of opting for the Iranian reformists, does not have any chance under present conditions. The only situation that can offer chances to him in Iran is a major shift in the political system of Iran (one that allows the reformists to have a role in the government). At present the existing trend is towards elimination of the reformists, not strengthening them.

That lives us with Mesbah Yazdi and Mojtaba, the son of the present leader and it seems Mojataba is the in the process of getting more importance. Gholam-ali Haddad Adel, a former speaker of parliament and father in law of Mojtaba Khamenei, has said that Mojtaba has four main characteristics: praying, innocence, obedience to God and teaching the advanced level in the seminaries. (3). this was in fact, a support for his leadership. For the same reason, following the fraudulent June 2009 elections in Iran and second term of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, people shouted slogans against Mojataba Khamenei in the streets.

Noting the role of Hashemi Rafsanjani in the selection of Ali Khamenei as the leader, it is important to find a person to play the same role for the replacement of Ali Khamenei and Hadad Adel may well be a good candidate for this role. Mojtaba is a student of Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi , Hashemi Shahroudi and Mohammad Bagher Kharrazi. Therefore he is among the persons who believe:

  1. The leadership is not subject to public vote and election.
  2. The leader is the direct representative of the Hidden Imam and he is the personification of that relationship
  3. The leader has limitless authorities that comes from his connection to the Hidden Imam and he does not need to get the legitimacy from the people ( the theory well defined by Mesbah Yazdi)
  4. The leader can eradicate his opponents and those who do not observe the religious Islamic Shiite rulings ( view of Kharrazi)
  5. The Shiite jurisprudence or Fighih is in the service of the political power (Shahroudi’s views)
  6. In order to preserve the power it is necessary to use paramilitary forces.

It seems Mojtaba is the only person among the present possible candidates that can continue the political line of the present leader and will not put the country in the process of the changing the mechanisms that exist in Iran especially for the military (IRGC) and security (police and intelligence) apparatus. In Iran no one can take the place of the leader without very strong relations with the military-security forces. The IRGC and the parallel revolutionary security organizations have a massive presence in all fields of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran and no one can be the leader without connections to those sources. Mojtaba, in addition to be the son of the leader and having his support, has strong relations with these institutions through persons like Hussein Taeb (deputy of the IRGC in Intelligence and close friend of Mojtaba), Mohammad Mohammadi Gholpayeghani (the Chief of Staff of Ali Khamenei and father in law of Khamenei’s eldest daughter), Asghar Hejazi (the security chief of Leadership office).


  1. The idea does not exist among the Sunnis, who constitute some 90 percent of the world’s Muslims. It is equally unknown among Shiites in places other than Iran, for the simple reason that the notion is an entirely made in. It did not even appear in the early draft of the Iranian constitution, and was imposed in its most extreme form only after the constitutional patch-up job of 1989. Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Iraq does not believe in it, any more than do the prominent leaders of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Prominent Iranian religious leaders that have passed from the scene-the likes of Kazem Shariatmadari, Abolqasem Kho’i ( Sistani’s mentor and teacher), and Mohammad Reza Golpayegani-never subscribed to the principle.

    The existing political system in Iran was, in fact, founded on a series of questionable narrations from Islamic sources, which seem almost entirely manufactured. It has no basis in the early government of the Islamic prophet or his successors, and was little more than an ad hoc design built around the so-called founder of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In its evolution, the system took shape as an outdated dictatorship of the religious class, artificially lashed together with a series of modern institutions, such as a parliament and an executive that served only as a front in the hands of the real powerbrokers. The objective all along has been to confuse and deceive both the local populace and the world outside.

    Chief among the architects of velayat-e faqih and its inclusion in the Iranian constitution is Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, once Khomeini’s designated successor who fell from grace in the Islamic regime of Iran shortly before Khomeini’s death. Montazeri, who had had a change of heart back then, became an influential voice in questioning the validity of the political philosophy. He said in 2008, “Granting absolute political authority to the expert in Islamic jurisprudence is tantamount to blasphemy.”

  2. The main figures of the Iranian Green Movement (such as Mir Hussein Mousavi) and Karroubi have said things about Seyyed Hassan Khomenei that created the view that they think of him as a good replacement for the present leader. Mousavi, in an interview said: “ Haj Seyyed Hassan is known to the people. They see him as a sorrowful, oppressed and aware person in their side. However, these events [the reference to the Green Movement] made the people to know him even more. He is learned person. He has roots in the Shiite seminaries and he is a prominent cleric. He is a important figure and he can be a source of hope for our people and among the clerics” quoting Emrouz, 21 Khordad 1389.

  3. He said that he was sitting in a ceremony and Ayatollah Khomeini was sitting next to him. In the same occasion, Ali Khamenei was walking around and Khomeini (Rafsnajani claimed) said in his hears: this (referring to Ali Khamenei) is good for leadership. Later, this sentence ( Khamenei is good for leadership, by Ayatollah Khomeini) (without referring to the claims of Rafsanjani or mentioning this point in very fine prints) was made the subject of mass propaganda for the leadership of Ali Khamenei all over Iran.



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