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Ali Khamenei

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Grand Ayatollah, Sayyed
Ali Hosseini Khamenei
سید علی حسینی خامنه‌ای
Ali Khamenei crop.jpg
2nd Supreme Leader of Iran
Assumed office
4 June 1989
President
Preceded by Ruhollah Khomeini
3rd President of Iran
In office
13 October 1981 – 3 August 1989
Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi
Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini
Preceded by Mohammad-Ali Rajai
Succeeded by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Member of the Assembly of Experts
In office
15 August 1983 – 21 February 1991
Constituency Tehran Province[1]
Majority 2,800,353 (87.8%)[2]
Member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly
In office
28 May 1980 – 13 October 1981
Constituency Tehran, Rey and Shemiranat
Majority 1,405,976 (65.8%)[3]
Tehran's Friday Prayer Imam
Assumed office
14 January 1980
Appointed by Ruhollah Khomeini
Interim Imams
Preceded by Hussein-Ali Montazeri
Personal details
Born Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khameneh
(1939-07-17) 17 July 1939 (age 78)
Mashhad, Khorasan, Iran
Political party Independent
Other political
affiliations
Spouse(s) Khojaste Bagherzadeh (m. 1964)
Children
  • Mostafa
  • Mojtaba
  • Masoud
  • Meysam
  • Hoda
  • Boshra
Relatives Hadi Khamenei (brother)
Residence House of Leadership
Alma mater Qom Seminary
Signature
Website english.khamenei.ir
Military service
Service/branch Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
Years of service 1979–1980
Commands Head of Revolutionary Guards[5]

Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei (Persian: سید علی حسینی خامنه‌ای‎, pronounced [ʔæˈliː hoseiˈniː χɒːmeneˈʔiː] (About this sound listen); born 17 July 1939)[6] is a marja and the second and current Supreme Leader of Iran, in office since 1989.[7][8] He was previously President of Iran from 1981 to 1989. Khamenei is the second longest-serving head of state in the Middle East (after Oman's Sultan Qaboos), as well as the second longest-serving Iranian leader of the last century, after Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.[9]

According to his official website, Khamenei was arrested six times before being sent into exile for three years during Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's reign.[10] He was the target of an attempted assassination in June 1981 that paralysed his right arm.[11][12]

Khamenei was one of Iran's leaders during the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s, and developed close ties with the now-powerful Revolutionary Guards which he controls, and whose commanders are elected and dismissed by him. The Revolutionary Guards have been used to suppress opposition to Khamenei.[13][14] Khamenei then went to serve as the third President of Iran from 1981 to 1989 while becoming a close ally to Khomeini. Eventually, after Khomeini had a fall off with then heir-apparent Hussein Ali Montazeri, Rafsanjani claimed that Khomeini had chosen Khamenei as his successor while the Assembly of Experts deliberated to elect the next Supreme Leader. Khamenei succeeded the first Supreme Leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, after Khomeini's death, being elected as the new Supreme Leader by the Assembly of Experts on 4 June 1989 at the age of 49. Khamenei is head of the servants of Astan Quds Razavi from 14 April 1979.[15]

Today, as Supreme Leader, Khamenei is the head of state of Iran and the commander-in-chief of its armed forces. For this reason, he is considered the most powerful political authority in the country.[16][17] As Supreme Leader, Khamenei can issue decrees and make the final decisions on the main policies of the government in many fields such as economy, the environment, foreign policy, national planning in Iran.[18][19][20][21][22][23] According to Karim Sadjadpour, Khamenei has either direct or indirect control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as the military and media.[9] All candidates to the Assembly of Experts, the President and the Majlis (Parliament), are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are selected directly or indirectly by the Supreme Leader of Iran.[24] There have been also instances when the Guardian Council reversed its ban of particular people after being ordered to do so by Khamenei.[25]

There have been major protests during Khamenei's reign, including the 1994 Qazvin Protests[26] the 1999 Iranian student protests, the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests[27][28][29] as well as the 2011–12 Iranian protests, among others. Several journalist, bloggers, and other individuals were put on trial in Iran for the charge of insulting the Supreme Leader Khamenei, often in conjunction with blasphemy charges. Sentencing included lashing and jail time, and some of those arrested on these charges have died in custody.[30][31] Regarding the controversial nuclear program of Iran, Ali Khamenei had issued a fatwa on 2003 saying that the production, stockpiling, and use of all kinds of weapons of mass destruction is forbidden.

Early life and education

A teenage Khamenei

Born to Seyyed Javad Khamenei, an Alim and Mujtahid born in Najaf,[32] and Khadijeh Mirdamadi (daughter of Hashem Mirdamadi) in Mashhad, Khamenei is the second of eight children.[33][6][34] Two of his brothers are also clerics and his younger brother, Hadi Khamenei, is a newspaper editor and cleric.[35] His elder sister Fatemeh Hosseini Khamenei died in 2015, at age 89.[36] His descendancy is of ethnic Azerbaijani background, with one source claiming that his mother was an ethnic Persian-speaker from Yazd.[37][38][39][40][41] Some of his ancestors are from Tafresh in today's Markazi Province and migrated from their original home in Tafresh to Khamaneh near the Tabriz.[42][43][44] Khamenei's great ancestor was Sayyid Hossein Tafreshi, a descendent of the Aftasi Sayyids, whose lineage supposedly reached to Sultan ul-Ulama Ahmad, known as Sultan Sayyid, a grandchild of Shia fourth Imam, Ali ibn Husayn.[32]

Education

He started education at age 4 by learning Quran at Maktab[32] and spent his basic and advanced levels of Seminary studies at the hawza of Mashhad, under mentors such as Sheikh Hashem Qazvini and Ayatollah Milani. Then, he went to Najaf in 1957,[45] but soon returned to Mashhad due to his father's unwillingness to let him stay there. In 1958, he settled in Qom where he attended the classes of Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi and Ruhollah Khomeini.[32] Like many other politically active clerics at the time, Khamenei was far more involved with politics than religious scholarship.[46]

Personal life

Khamenei is married to Khojaste Bagherzadeh with whom he has four sons (Mostafa, Mojtaba, Masood, and Meysam) and two daughters (Boshra and Hoda).[47] One of his sons, Mojtaba, married a daughter of Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.[48]

According to Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Khamenei has a decent life "without it being luxurious".[49] Robert Tait of The Telegraph notes that Khamenei is "renowned for a spartan lifestyle."[50] Khamenei's official residence is the Beit Rahbari compound. According to the Telegraph, around 500 people are employed at the Beit Rahbari compound, "many recruited from the military and security services".[50][51][52] Mother Nature Network published a picture of Khamenei exiting a BMW car, and noted that Khamenei has been seen riding around in a BMW.[53]

Health

Khamenei's health has been called into question. In January 2007, after he had not been seen in public for some weeks, and had not appeared as he traditionally does at celebrations for Eid al-Adha, rumours spread of his illness or death. Khamenei issued a statement declaring that "enemies of the Islamic system fabricated various rumors about death and health to demoralize the Iranian nation", but according to author Hooman Majd, he appeared to be "visibly weak" in photos released with the statement.[54]

On 9 September 2014, Khamenei underwent prostate surgery in what his doctors described in state news media as a "routine operation".[55][56] According to a report by Le Figaro, Western intelligence sources said Khamenei has prostate cancer.[57][58]

Political life and presidency

Khamenei in a protest during Iranian Revolution in Mashhad

Khamenei was a key figure in the Iranian Revolution in Iran and a close confidant of Ruhollah Khomeini.

Ali Khamenei in military uniform during Iran–Iraq War

Since the founding of the Islamic Republic, Khamenei has held many government posts.[6]

Muhammad Sahimi claims that his political career began after the Iranian Revolution, when the former President of Iran, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then a confidant of Khomeini, brought Khamenei into Khomeini's inner circle. Later on, the current President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, then a member of Parliament, arranged for Khamenei to get his first major post in the provisional revolutionary government as deputy defense minister.[59]

Khomeini appointed Khamenei to the post of Tehran's Friday prayers Imam in 1980, after resignation of Hussein-Ali Montazeri from the post. He served briefly as the vice Minister of National Defence from late July to 6 November 1979[60] and as a supervisor of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. He also went to the battlefield as a representative of the defense commission of the parliament.[32]

Assassination attempt

Khamenei in Hospital after Assassination Attempt

Khamenei narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the Mujaheddin-e Khalq when a bomb, concealed in a tape recorder, exploded beside him.[61]

On 27 June 1981,[62] while Khamenei had returned from the frontline, he went to the Aboozar Mosque according to his Saturdays schedule. After the first prayer, he began to give lecture to worshipers who had wrote their questions on the paper. Meanwhile, a tape recorder accompanied with papers was put on the desk in front of Khamenei by a young man who pressed a button. After a minute the loud speaker’s sound become like whistle and suddenly the tape recorder exploded.[63] "A gift of Furqan Group to Islamic republic", it was written on the inner wall of the tape recorder.[64][65] The treatment duration of Ayatollah Khamenei took several month and his arm, vocal chords and lungs were seriously injured.[66] He was permanently injured, losing the use of his right arm.[61]

As president

Ali Khamenei has shaken hands with his left hand since the unsuccessful assassination[67]

In 1981, after the assassination of Mohammad-Ali Rajai, Khamenei was elected President of Iran by a landslide vote (97%) in the Iranian presidential election, October 1981 in which only four candidates were approved by the Council of Guardians. Khamenei became the first cleric to serve in the office. Ruhollah Khomeini had originally wanted to keep clerics out of the presidency but later changed his views. Khamenei was reelected in Iranian presidential election, 1985 where only three candidates were approved by the Council of Guardians, receiving 87% of the votes. The only Iranian presidential election that had fewer candidates approved by the Council of Guardians was the Iranian presidential election, 1989, where only two candidates were approved by the Council of Guardians to run, and Rafsanjani easily won 96% of the votes.

In his presidential inaugural address Khamenei vowed to eliminate "deviation, liberalism, and American-influenced leftists".[68] According to the Iran Chamber, vigorous opposition to the government, including nonviolent and violent protest, assassinations, guerrilla activity and insurrections, was answered by state repression and terror in the early 1980s, both before and during Khamenei's presidency. Thousands of rank-and-file members of insurgent groups were killed, often by revolutionary courts. By 1982, the government announced that the courts would be reined in, although various political groups continued to be repressed by the government in the first half of the 1980s.[69]

During Iran-Iraq war

Khamenei as Tehran's Friday Prayer Imam in 1979

Khamenei was one of Iran's leaders during the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s, and developed close ties with the now-powerful Revolutionary Guards. As president, he had a reputation of being deeply interested in the military, budget and administrative details.[61]

After the war

In its 10 April 1997 ruling regarding the Mykonos restaurant assassinations, the German court issued an international arrest warrant for Iranian intelligence minister Hojjat al-Islam Ali Fallahian[70] after declaring that the assassination had been ordered by him with knowledge of Khamenei and Rafsanjani.[71] Iranian officials, however, have categorically denied their involvement. The then Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri dismissed the ruling as being political, untrue and unsubstantiated. The ruling led to a diplomatic crisis between the governments of Iran and several European countries, which lasted until November 1997.[72] Darabi and Rhayel were finally released from prison on 10 December 2007 and deported back to their home countries.[73][74]

Supreme Leader

Khamenei has fired and reinstated Presidential cabinet appointments.[75][76] Iran's Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani, a Khamenei appointee, has warned the president of Iran against voicing opposition to Khamenei.[77]

Election as Supreme Leader

Khamenei succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini after Khomeini's death, being elected as the new Supreme Leader by the Assembly of Experts on 4 June 1989.[78]

Leadership council proposal

Initially, the idea of leadership council was proposed by some members of Assembly of experts. Various lists were proposed and Khamenei was named in all of them.[79] For instance, a council of three members, Ali Meshkini, Mousavi Ardebili and Khamenei, was proposed to lead Iran. According to Rafsanjani, he and Khamenei were against the proposal while Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi and Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini were in favor of it. Supporters of the council proposal believed that having a council would produce a higher degree of unity in society and more positive characteristics would be found in a council, while the opposers believed that an individual leader was more efficient according to the past experiences in case of Judiciary council.[78]

Ebrahim Amini listed the summary of reasons presented by the two sides. According to him the opposers rejected the proposal because: i) Evidences for Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist were true only for the guardianship of an individual and it was not clear who held the guardianship when there was a council. Guardianship of a council was not rooted in Hadiths and Islamic jurisprudence. ii) Previous council type organizations such as broadcasting council and supreme judicial council were not successful in practice and leadership council would not do well for similar reasons. iii) People were accustomed to the leadership of an individual and a council of leaders was something unfamiliar for them. iv) An individual leader could act more decisive when dealing with critical and important decisions and solving problems and crisis. On the other hand, the supporters of the proposal believed that: i) At the time, there were no Faqih equal to Khomeini or even two or three levels lower than him so that he could fulfill the expectation of people. ii) In case of council of leaders, the members could compensate each other, if any of them had some shortage in a field.[78]

Finally, 45 members voted against the leadership council proposal while more than 20 people were in favor of it and the proposal was rejected.[79] After the assembly rejected the idea of a Leadership Council, Khamenei was elected Leader by 60 of the 74 members present with Grand Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Golpaygani receiving the remaining 14 votes.[80][81][82] Though Khamenei opposed this and argued heavily against the decision, he eventually accepted it after debating with the mujtahids of the Assembly.[83]

Marjaʿiyyat criteria

Since Khamenei was not a marja' at the time—which the Iranian constitution required—he was named as the temporary Supreme Leader. Later, the constitution was amended[why?] and the Assembly of Experts reconvened on 6 August 1989, to reconfirm Khamenei with 60 votes out of 64 present.[84] In 29 April 1989, responding to the letter of Ayatollah Meshkini, the head of committee responsible for revising the Constitution, asking Khomeini's viewpoint regarding the 'marjaʿiyyat criteria, Khomeini said: "...From the very beginning, I believed and insisted that there is no need for the requirements of marjaʿiyyat (authority in jurisprudence). A pious mujtahid (jurist-intellectual), who is approved by the esteemed Assembly of Experts (Majlis-i Khobregan), will suffice."[85]

Political philosophy and image

Khamenei along with Ruhollah Khomeini and Mohammad Beheshti, 1980

Khamenei's era has differed from that of his predecessor. He has, however, continued Khomeini's policy of "balancing one group against another, making sure that no single side gains too much power."[61] But lacking Khomeini's charisma and clerical standing, he has developed personal networks, first inside the armed forces, and then among the clerics, while administering the major bonyads and seminaries of Qom and Mashhad. According to Vali Nasr of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, "[Khamenei] [took] many of the powers of the presidency with him and [turned] the office of the supreme leader into the omnipotent overseer of Iran's political scene". In Nasr's view, Khamenei is an "unusual sort of dictator".[61] Officials under Khamenei influence the country's various powerful, and sometimes bickering, institutions, including "the parliament, the presidency, the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guards, the military, the intelligence services, the police agencies, the clerical elite, the Friday prayer leaders and much of the media", as well as various "nongovernmental foundations, organizations, councils, seminaries and business groups".[61]

Khamenei issues decrees and makes the final decisions on economy, environment, foreign policy and everything else in Iran.[18][19][20][21] Khamenei regularly meets with president, cabinet members, head and officials of the judiciary branch, parliamentarians, among others, and tells them what to do.[86][87][88][89][90][91] Khamenei has also fired and reinstated Presidential cabinet appointments.[75][76] Khamenei meets with foreign dignitaries, however he does not travel overseas; if anyone wishes to see him, that person must travel to Iran. Apart from his time in Najaf as a student, Khamenei travelled to Libya during his time as President.[92][93]

In his speeches Khamenei regularly mentions many familiar themes of the 1979 revolution: justice, independence, self-sufficiency, Islamic government and resolute opposition to Israel and United States, while rarely mentioning other revolutionary ideals such as democracy and greater government transparency.[68] According to Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Khamenei has "resisted Rafsanjani's attempts to find a modus vivendi with the United States, Khatami's aspirations for a more democratic Islamic state, and Ahmadinejad's penchant for outright confrontation."[68]

Privatization of state-owned businesses

In 2007, "Khamenei ordered his deputies to start privatizing state-owned businesses," including the telephone company, three banks and dozens of small oil and petrochemical enterprises. After a few months, at a televised meeting with then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Cabinet ministers, important clerics, the leader of parliament and provincial governors, the heads of state broadcasting and the Iranian chamber of commerce, Khamenei ordered "to pass some laws, sell off some businesses, and be quick about it." Khamenei warned that "those who are hostile to these policies are the ones who are going to lose their interests and influence."[94]

Dispute regarding status as Grand Ayatollah

Khamenei during a meeting with Qaris

Khamenei's status as marja' is controversial. In 1994, after the death of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Araki, the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom declared Khamenei a new marja. Several ayatollahs, however, declined to recognize him as such. Some of those dissidents clerics included Mohammad Shirazi, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Hassan Tabatabai-Qomi, and Yasubedin Rastegar Jooybari. In 1997, for example, Montazeri "questioned the powers of the Leader" and was subsequently punished for his comments with the closure of his religious school, an attack on his office in Qom, and a period of house arrest.[8]

Khamenei's acceptance of marja'iyat for Shi'as outside Iran does not have traditional precedence in Shi'ism. Marja'iyat can be, and in modern times is, increasingly transitional.[relevant? ][95]

Appointments

The table below lists some of the incumbent senior officeholders in Iran directly appointed by the supreme leader (sorted by date of appointment):

Office Incumbent Date Appointed Limit Ref
Commander of Islamic Republic of Iran Army MG Ataollah Salehi 11 September 2005 N/A [96]
Commander of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps MG Mohammad Ali Jafari 2 September 2007 N/A [97]
Chief Justice of Iran Sadegh Larijani 14 August 2009
(14 August 2014)
5+5 years [98][99]
Head of Bonyad Mostazafan Mohammad Saeedikia 22 July 2014 5 years
Chief of Police BG Hossein Ashtari 21 March 2015 3 years [100]
Head of Imam Khomeini Relief Committee Parviz Fattah 5 April 2015 N/A [101]
Custodian of Astan Quds Razavi Ebrahim Raisi 7 March 2016 N/A [102]
Head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Abdulali Ali-Asgari 11 May 2016 N/A [103]
Chief-of-Staff of Iranian Armed Forces MG Mohammad Bagheri 28 June 2016 N/A [104]
Head of Islamic Azad University's Board of Trustees Ali Akbar Velayati 19 January 2017 N/A [105]

Fatwas and messages

Fatwa regarding companions of Muhammad

In 2010, Khamenei issued a fatwa which bans any insult to the Sahabah (companions of Muhammad) as well as Muhammad's wives. The fatwa was issued in an effort to reconcile legal, social, and political disagreements between Sunni and Shia.[106]

Amman Message

Khamenei is one of the Ulama signatories of the Amman Message, which gives a broad foundation for defining Muslim orthodoxy.[107] as well as elaborating on the factors needed to create Islamic unity, he argues: "neither the Shia Muslims allied with the British MI6 are Shias, nor the Sunni mercenaries of the American CIA are Sunnis, as they are both anti-Islamic."[108]

Fatwa against nuclear weapons

Khamenei has reportedly issued a fatwa saying the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam.[109]

The fatwa was cited in an official statement by the Iranian government at an August 2005 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.[110] It's been widely discussed by international officials and specifically recognized by the US administration.[111]

The Iranian official website for information regarding its nuclear program has provided numerous instances of public statements by Khamenei wherein he voices his opposition to pursuit and development of nuclear weapons in moral, religious and Islamic juridical terms.[112] Khamenei's official website specifically cites a 2010 version[113] of these statements in the fatwa section of the website in Farsi as a fatwa on "Prohibition of Weapons of Mass Destruction".[114]

Doubts have been cast by experts on the existence of the fatwa as it can be changed or modified as and when deemed necessary,[115][116] as well as doubts on its authenticity, its impact,[117] and its apparently religious nature.[118] Gareth Porter believes that the fatwa is "sincere"[119] and Gholam-Hossein Elham commented that it will not change.[120]

Relationship with the press

Khamenei speaking to Iranian Air Force personnel, 6 February 2016

In 2000, he was listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as "one of the top ten enemies of the press and freedom of expression",[121] and was named to the Time 100 in 2007.[122] Opposition journalists Ahmad Zeidabadi, Mohsen Sazegara, Mohammad Nourizad and Akbar Ganji were arrested and investigated[123][124][125][126] for spreading critical articles containing unproven charges against Khamenei's policies as the leader and some organizations.[127][128] According to the Iran's Press Law "spreading rumors and lies and distorts the words of others" is not allowed.[129] Also, according to the law, "spreading libel against officials, institutions, organizations and individuals in the country or insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected, even by means of pictures or caricatures" is not allowed.[129]

Among his controversial actions were his rejection of a bill presented by the Iranian parliament in 2000 that aimed to reform the country's press law, and the disqualification of thousands of parliamentary candidates for the 2004 Iranian legislative election by the Guardian Council he appointed.[8]

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, Forbes selected Khamenei as the 21st, 23rd, and 19th most powerful person in the world, respectively, in the list of The World's Most Powerful People.[130]

Political power following reform era

According to Karim Sadjadpour of the American Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, several factors have strengthened Khamenei in recent years:

(1) A vast network of commissars stationed in strategic posts throughout government bureaucracies, dedicated to enforcing his authority; (2) the weak, conservative-dominated parliament, headed by Khamenei loyalist Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel (whose daughter is married to the Leader's son); (3) the rapidly rising political and economic influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, whose top leaders are directly appointed by Khamenei and have always been publicly deferential to him; (4) the political disengagement of Iran's young population ....; and (5) most significant[ly], the 2005 presidential election, which saw hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trounce Khamenei's chief rival ... Hashemi Rafsanjani ...[68]

According to Christopher Dickey, in order to consolidate his power base, Khamenei has developed close relations with the security and military establishment, while also expanding the bureaucracy inside the government and around his Beit Rahbari compound.[131]

Writing in The Telegraph, Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat observed: "The ayatollah likes to cultivate an image of austerity but receives major commissions from the Iranian oil and arms industries and there have been regular claims that he and his son have amassed a fortune running into billions of dollars."[132] A six-month investigation by Reuters has said that Khamenei controls a "financial empire" worth approximately US$95 billion that is not overseen by the Iranian Parliament, a figure much larger than the estimated wealth of the late Shah of Iran. According to the Reuters investigation, Khamenei uses the assets of a company called Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam or "Setad" in Farsi, in order to increase his grip on power.[50] Reuters "found no evidence that Khamenei is tapping Setad to enrich himself," instead concluding that "Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran's messy factional infighting."[133] According to The Telegraph, money from "Setad" is used to fund Khamenei's Beit Rahbari compound.[50] Hamid Vaezi, Setad's head of public relations, said the information "was far from realities and is not correct".[50]

Protests during leadership

There have been several major protests during Khamenei's reign, including the 1994 Qazvin Protests—where, according to Al-Arabiya, around 40 people were killed and over 400 were injured—[26] the 1999 Iranian student protests, the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, when protesters chanted "death to the dictator",[27][28] and ripped down pictures of Khamenei,[29] as well as the 2011–12 Iranian protests, among others. In 2016, Khamenei, who outlines the elections guidelines "in line with Article 110 of Iran’s Constitution", asked to maximize the amount of transparency in elections in Iran, using modern technologies.[134]

Challenges following 2009 election protest

Khamenei and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

In mid-August 2009, a group of unnamed former reformist lawmakers appealed to the Assembly of Experts – the constitutional body charged with electing and (in theory) supervising and removing the Leader – to investigate Leader Ali Khamenei's qualification to rule.[135] A week later another anonymous letter was issued "calling Iran's leader a dictator and demanding his removal", this one by a group of Iranian clerics.[136] The letters were called a blow to Khamenei's "status as a neutral arbiter and Islamic figurehead"[136] and an "unprecedented challenge to the country's most powerful man"[135] though not a blow to his actual power as leader. The New York Times reports "the phrase 'death to Khamenei' has begun appearing in graffiti on Tehran walls, a phrase that would have been almost unimaginable not long ago."[136]

The letter was addressed to the head of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a "powerful former president" who also questions the election results. According to the Associate Press it is unlikely the letter's demands would be met as "two-thirds of the 86-member assembly are considered strong loyalists of Khamenei and would oppose" any investigation of him.[135]

According to The New York Times an 11-page anonymous letter by a group of Iranian clerics was issued 15 August "calling Iran's leader a dictator and demanding his removal."[136][137]

According to The New York Times, a "prominent Iranian cleric and a former lawmaker said on Sunday that they had spoken to some of the authors and had no doubt the letter was genuine". According to this cleric, the letter's signatories number "several dozen, and are mostly midranking figures from Qum, Isfahan and Mashhad", and that "the pressure on clerics in Qum is much worse than the pressure on activists because the establishment is afraid that if they say anything they can turn the more traditional sectors of society against the regime".[136]

Relations with President Ahmadinejad

Early in his presidency, Ahmadinejad was sometimes described as "enjoy[ing] the full backing" of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,[138] and even as being his "protege."[139] In Ahmadinejad's 2005 inauguration the supreme leader allowed Ahmadinejad to kiss his hand and cheeks in what was called "a sign of closeness and loyalty,"[140] and after the 2009 election fully endorsed Ahmadinejad against protesters.[141] However, as early as January 2008 signs of disagreement between the two men developed over domestic policies,[138] and by the period of 2010–11 several sources detected a "growing rift" between them.[142] The disagreement was described as centering on Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top adviser and close confidant of Ahmadinejad[143] and opponent of "greater involvement of clerics in politics",[144] who was first vice president of Iran until being ordered to resign from the cabinet by the supreme leader. In 2009 Ahmadinejad dismissed Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i, an opponent of Mashaei. In April 2011, another Intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, resigned after being asked to by Ahmadinejad, but was reinstated by the supreme leader within hours.[139][145] Ahmadinejad declined to officially back Moslehi's reinstatement for two weeks and in protest engaged in an "11-day walkout" of cabinet meetings, religious ceremonies, and other official functions.[142][145] Ahmadinejad's actions led to angry public attacks by clerics, parliamentarians and military commanders, who accused him of ignoring orders from the supreme leader.[143] Conservative opponents in parliament launched an "impeachment drive" against him,[144] four websites with ties to Ahmadinejad reportedly were "filtered and blocked",[139] and several people "said to be close" to the president and Mashaei (such as Abbas Amirifar and Mohammed Sharif Malekzadeh) were arrested on charges of being "magicians" and invoking djinns.[142] On 6 May 2011, it was reported that Ahmadinejad had been given an ultimatum to accept the leader's intervention or resign,[146] and on 8 May he "apparently bowed" to the reinstatement, welcoming back Moslehi to a cabinet meeting.[147] The events have been said to have "humiliated and weakened" Ahmadinejad, though the president denied that there had been any rift between the two,[143] and according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency, he stated that his relationship with the supreme leader "is that of a father and a son."[144]

In 2012, Khamenei ordered a halt to a parliamentary inquiry into Ahmadinejad's mishandling of the Iranian economy.[148]

Domestic policy

Khamenei at a public speech

Khamenei is regarded by some as the figurehead of the country's conservative establishment.[8]

Khamenei supported Mesbah Yazdi describing him as one of Iran's most credible ideologues prior to the 2005 election, but has reportedly "recently been concerned about Mesbah's political ambitions."[149] Mesbah is a critic of reform movement in Iran and was seen as President Ahmadinejad's spiritual guide.[citation needed]

In 2007, Khamenei requested that government officials speed up Iran's move towards economic privatization. Its last move towards such a goal was in 2004, when Article 44 of the constitution was overturned. Article 44 had decreed that Iran's core infrastructure should remain state-run. Khamenei also suggested that ownership rights should be protected in courts set up by the Justice Ministry; the hope was that this new protection would give a measure of security to and encourage private investment.[150][151]

Additionally, Khamenei has stated that he believes in the importance of nuclear technology for civilian purposes because "oil and gas reserves cannot last forever."[152][153]

On 30 April 2008, Ali Khamenei backed President Ahmadinejad's economic policy and said the West was struggling with more economic difficulties than Iran, with a "crisis" spreading from the United States to Europe, and inflation was a widespread problem. The Iranian leader said that the ongoing economic crisis which has crippled the world has been unprecedented in the past 60 years. "This crisis has forced the UN to declare state of emergency for food shortages around the globe but foreign radios have focused on Iran to imply that the current price hikes and inflation in the country are the results of carelessness on the part of Iranian officials which of course is not true", he said. Khamenei emphasized that no one has the right to blame the Iranian government for Iran's economic problems. He also advised people and the government to be content and avoid waste in order to solve economic problems. "I advise you to keep in your mind that this great nation is never afraid of economic sanctions", he added.[154][155][156][157]

Science and technology

Ali Khamenei has been supportive of scientific progress in Iran. He was among the first Islamic clerics to allow stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.[158][159] In 2004, Khamenei said that the country's progress is dependent on investment in the field of science and technology. He also said that attaching a high status to scholars and scientists in society would help talents to flourish and science and technology to become domesticated, thus ensuring the country's progress and development.[160]

Minorities

The Bahá'í Faith is the largest religious minority in Iran, with around 300,000 members (8,000,000 members worldwide) and is officially considered a dangerous cult by Iranian government. It is banned in Iran and several other countries,[161] while others have expressed concern about the group. Khamenei has approved new legislation against Bahá'ís in Iran and lessen their influence abroad.[162] According to a letter from the Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces in Iran addressed to the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Police Force, Khamenei has also ordered the Command Headquarters to identify people who adhere to the Bahá'í Faith and to monitor their activities and gather any and all information about the members of the Bahá'í Faith.

Trials of people for insulting Khamenei

Several journalists, bloggers, and other individuals were put on trial in Iran for the charge of insulting the Supreme Leader, often in conjunction with blasphemy charges.[30][31][163]

In 1996, Abbas Maroufi was sentenced to 35 lashes and 6 months imprisonment for spreading lies and insulting Khamenei. Maroufi was also banned from working as a journalist and his literary monthly Gardoon was closed. Maroufi had compared Khamenei to former Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.[164]

In 2005, an Iranian was jailed for two years for insulting Khamenei and Imam Khomeini while being cleared of insulting the prophet.[165]

In 2009, Iranian blogger Omid Reza Mir Sayafi who was arrested for insulting Khamenei in an internet post, died while in custody in Evin Prison.[166]

In 2010, opposition activist Ahmad Gabel was sentenced to 20 months in jail for insulting Khamenei, as well as 3 additional years for possessing a satellite receiver, a 3-year exile and a fine.[167]

In 2014, eight men including a Briton were sentenced for 19 to 20 years for insulting Khamenei and other charges relating to Facebook comments.[168]

In 2017, Sina Dehghan was sentenced to death for insulting the prophet, with an additional 16-month sentence for insulting Khamenei in a messaging application.[169]

Interpretation of Islamic law

In 2000, Ali Khamenei sent a letter to the Iranian parliament forbidding the legislature from debating a revision of the Iranian press law. He wrote: "The present press law has succeeded to a point in preventing this big plague. The draft bill is not legitimate and in the interests of the system and the revolution."[170] His use of "extra-legislative power" has been criticized widely by reformists and opposition groups. In reaction to the letter, some Parliament members voiced outrage and threatened to resign.[171] Kayhan and Jomhuri-ye Eslami are two newspapers published under the management of Khamenei.

In late 1996, following a fatwa by Khamenei stating that music education corrupts the minds of young children, many music schools were closed and music instruction to children under the age of 16 was banned by public establishments (although private instruction continued).[172] Khamenei stated, "The promotion of music [both traditional and Western] in schools is contrary to the goals and teachings of Islam, regardless of age and level of study."[173]

In 1999, Khamenei issued a fatwa stating that it was permitted to use a third-party (donor sperm, ova or surrogacy) in fertility treatments. This was different in "both style and substance" to the fatwa on ART by Gad El-Hak Ali Gad El-Hak of Egypt's Al-Azhar University in the late 1980s which permitted ART (IVF and similar technologies) as long there is no third-party donation (of sperm, eggs, embryos, or uteruses).[174]

In 2002, he ruled that human stem cell research was permissible under Islam, with the condition that it be used to create only parts as opposed to a whole human.[175]

In 2002, after protests erupted in the capital, Khamenei intervened against the death sentence given to Hashem Aghajari for arguing that Muslims should re-interpret Islam rather than blindly follow leaders. Khamenei ordered a review of the sentence against Aghajari and it was later commuted to a prison sentence.[8]

Women's rights

In July 2007, Khamenei criticized Iranian women's rights activists and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): "In our country ... some activist women, and some men, have been trying to play with Islamic rules in order to match international conventions related to women", Khamenei said. "This is wrong." Khamenei made these comments two days after Iranian women's rights activist Delaram Ali was sentenced to 34 months of jail and 10 lashes by Iran's judiciary.[176] Iran's judiciary works under the auspices of the supreme leader and is independent from the government.[citation needed]

Khamenei is an advocate of Islamic practice of Hijab. He believes that hijab is aimed at honoring women. To the Western objection to the compulsory hijab in Iran, he responds by pointing out the compulsory unveiling in certain western countries and obstacles created for veiled Muslim women who want to enter universities. He further argues that women in the West have lost their honor by pointing out perceived high rate of sexual violence in the West as well as the widespread exploitation of female sexual appeal for commercial purposes: "In effect, they have been treating women like a commodity, like another of their products. If you were to look at the magazines, which are published in the West, you would see that they advertise a commodity for sale next to the naked picture of a woman. Can you imagine a bigger insult to women? They [the West] must be answerable [not Islam]."[177][178]

Ali Khamenei believes in gender segregation.[179] Khamenei also believes that gender equality is a Zionist plot with the purpose to "corrupt the role of women in society".[180]

Khamenei claims that "Today, homosexuality is a major problem in the western world. They [western nations] however ignore it. But the reality is that homosexuality has become a serious challenge, pain and unsolvable problem for the intellectuals in the west."[181]

In 2007, Iranian police under the direction of Khamenei launched a "Public Security Plan", arresting dozens of "thugs" to increase public security.[182]

Presidential, parliamentary, and Assembly of Experts elections

Ali Khamenei casting his vote in 2013 presidential election

As Supreme Leader, Khamenei has influence over elections in Iran since the Constitution of Iran allows him to appoint half of the members of the Guardian Council and the Chief Justice of Iran.[183][184] The Constitution also establishes that the Council approves or disqualifies candidates for office while the Chief Justice presents the other half of the members of the Council to be selected by Parliament.[183] These constitutional provisions give Khamenei direct and indirect influence over the Council; an entity that, in turn, has direct influence over who can run for government. This influence was evident in the 2004 parliamentary elections, in which the Guardian Council disqualified thousands of candidates from running—including 80 incumbents, many of the reformist members of Parliament, and all the candidates of the Islamic Iran Participation Front party. Subsequently, the conservatives won about 70% of parliamentary seats. The election became a key turning point in the country's political evolution as it marked the end of the campaign for political and social reform initiated by former President Mohammad Khatami.[185]

During the 2005 presidential election, Khamenei's comments about importance of fighting corruption, being faithful to the ideals of the Islamic revolution, as well as on the superior intelligence and dynamism of those who studied engineering, were interpreted by some as a subtle endorsement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who had a PhD in traffic engineering).[68] After the election, and until recently, Khamenei was outspoken in his support for Ahmadinejad, and "defended him publicly in ways which he never" had reformist president Khatami. Khamenei would later certify the results of the 2009 Iranian Presidential election.[68]

Khamenei has taken a firm stand against what has been described as "the greatest domestic challenge in 30 years" to the leadership of the Islamic Republic – the 2009–10 Iranian election protests. He has stated that he will neither reconsider vote results nor bow to public pressure over the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.[186] "By Allah's favor, the presidential election was accurately held, and the current matters should be pursued legally."[187] In a public appearance on 19 June he expresses his support for the declared winner Ahmadinejad and accused foreign powers – including Britain, Israel and the United States – of helping foment protest against the election results.[188] In particular, he singled out Britain, perceiving the country as the "most evil" of its enemies.[189] He said that the Iranian people will respond with an "iron fist" if Western powers meddle in Iran's internal affairs.[190]

In response to reformist gains in the 2015-2016 election cycle, Khamenei lamented the loss of conservative clerics from the Assembly of Experts and suggested changes to the law by which the Guardian Council vets candidates may be needed because it is currently too difficult for the Guardian Council to vet so large a number of candidates.[191]

Human rights

Khamenei has called human rights a fundamental principle underlying Islamic teachings, that precedes western concern for human rights by many centuries. He has attacked Western powers who have criticized the rights record of the Islamic Republic for hypocrisy saying that these countries economically oppress people in Third World countries and support despots and dictators. In response to Western complaints of human rights abuses in Iran he has stated that the American administration has committed many crimes and is therefore not fit to judge the Islamic Republic.[192]

Foreign policy

Khamenei in meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, 23 November 2015

Khamenei has "direct responsibility" for foreign policy, which "cannot be conducted without his direct involvement and approval". He has a foreign policy team independent of the president's "which includes two former foreign ministers" and "can at any time of his choosing inject himself into the process and 'correct' a flawed policy or decision."[193] His foreign policy is said to steer a course that avoids either confrontation or accommodation with the West.[68]

Opposition to United States foreign policy

On 4 June 2006, Khamenei said that Iran would disrupt energy shipments from the Persian Gulf region (about 20% of the world's daily supply of oil passes from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz very close to Iran's coast[194]) should the country come under attack from the US, insisting that Tehran will not give up its right to produce nuclear fuel.

Khamenei with Chinese President Xi Jinping, 23 January 2016

On 14 September 2007, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (on the 1st Friday prayer of Ramadan) predicted that George W. Bush and American officials will one day be tried in an international criminal court to be held "accountable" for the U.S. led invasion of Iraq.[195] He has also blamed the United States for "blind terrorism" after its invasion of Iraq.[196] He asserts that the United States is the main cause of insecurity in Iraq.

On 21 March 2009, a day after US President Barack Obama claimed to offer Iran a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement between the two old foes, Khamenei said a change of US "words" was not enough and added: "We will watch and we will judge (the new US administration) ... You change, our behavior will change."[197]

In June 2011, Khamenei accused the United States government of terrorism and rejected the American definition of terrorism; he was quoted as saying, "The U.S. and the European governments that follow it describe Palestinian combatant groups who fight for the liberation of their land as terrorists."[198]

Khamenei with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, 11 February 2017

In June 2012, Khamenei warned Western governments that the mounting sanctions on the country will only deepen the Iranians' hatred of the West.[199]

In October 2014, Khamenei said the U.S. and the U.K. created ISIS as a tool to fight Iran and "create insecurity" in the region.[200]

On 19 July 2015, while speaking at a mosque in Tehran, Khamenei said to his supporters that the policies of the United States in the region were "180 degrees" opposed to Iran’s political and religious movement.[201] The speech was punctuated by chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". Khamenei said in regards to the 2015 nuclear deal that "Even after this deal our policy towards the arrogant U.S. will not change."[202][203][204][205][206][207] U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the comments reflected policy, it was "very disturbing", and "very troubling".[201][208]

Condemnation of 11 September attacks

After the September 11 attacks, Khamenei condemned the act and the attackers and called for a condemnation of terrorist activities all over the world, but warned strongly against a military intervention in Afghanistan.[209] He is quoted as saying, "Mass killings of human beings are catastrophic acts which are condemned wherever they may happen and whoever the perpetrators and the victims may be."[209]

Zionism and Israel

Khamenei is an opponent of the State of Israel and Zionism, and has been criticized for anti-Semitic rhetoric and for making threats against Israel.[210] On 15 December 2000, Khamenei called Israel a "cancerous tumor of a state" that "should be removed from the region"[211][212][213][214] and in 2013 called Israel a "rabid dog",[215] as well as in 2014 during the Gaza war,[216] for what he called attacking innocent people.[217] In 2014 a tweet, from an account attributed to Khamenei, claimed that there was no cure for Israel but its annihilation.[218][219][220][221]

In a September 2008 sermon for Friday prayers in Tehran, Khamenei stated that "it is incorrect, irrational, pointless and nonsense to say that we are friends of Israeli people",[222] because he believed that the occupation is done by the means of them. "...usurpation of houses, lands, and business [of Palestinian people] are carried out using these people. They are the background actors of Zionist elements," said Khamenei in his speech. "...we have no problem with Jews and Christians...we have problem with the usurpers of Palestine land," he added.[223] Also, he said that he had raised the issue "to spell an end to any debates".[222] In 2013, Khamenei accused France of "kneeling" before Israel, while saying that Israel was led by people unworthy of the "title human".[224]

Nevertheless, according to anti-regime change activist Abbas Edalat, in 2005 Khamenei responded to a remark by then-President Ahmadinejad which had been widely translated as saying that the "regime occupying Jerusalem should be wiped off the map" by saying that "the Islamic Republic has never threatened and will never threaten any country."[225]

In a September 2009 sermon, Khamenei was quoted as saying, that "the Zionist cancer is gnawing into the lives of Islamic nations."[226] In another report of the same speech, he added that "we will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world, and we are not afraid of declaring this."[227]

Khamenei instead proposed that "Palestinian refugees should return and Muslims, Christians and Jews could choose a government for themselves, excluding immigrant Jews," adding "No one will allow a bunch of thugs, lechers and outcasts from London, America and Moscow to rule over the Palestinians."[228]

On 10 September 2015, in a speech about Israel after agreement on the nuclear program of Iran, Khamenei made a remark "Israel will not exist in 25 years".[229] For the first time, the remark was published in Khamenei's official website and his Twitter.[230][231] This sentence was introduced as the best and most important sentence made by Iranian people in 2015, in an online poll conducted by his official website.[232]

On 21 February, at the 6th International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada, Khamenei regarded withdrawal of Israel from south Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005 as two major achievements so far.[233] Also, he advised the Islamic countries to refrain from "useless" crises and differences and instead concentrate on the issue of Palestine which he regarded as the core issue of Islam. "Otherwise, the potentials and capabilities of the nations will go to waste in the face of vain struggles, which would provide opportunities for the Zionist regime to become even stronger," he added.[234]

Questioning of the Holocaust

On 21 March 2014, Khamenei used a morning speech marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year, to call into question the Holocaust. He said, "the Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it's uncertain how it has happened".[235][236][237]

Literary and art

Interested in the study of the novels and stories since childhood, Khamenei has studied various world's credible novels. He is familiar with literary genres,[32] and was "fascinated by Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell," in his youth.[238] He praised the works of Mikhail Sholokhov, Alexei Tolstoy,[239] Honoré de Balzac, and Michel Zévaco. However, Victor Hugo's works are the best in his viewpoint:[240]

In my opinion, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is the best novel that has been written in history. I have not read all the novels written throughout history, no doubt, but I have read many that relate to the events of various centuries. I have read some very old novels. For example, say, I’ve read The Divine Comedy. I have read Amir Arsalan. I have also read A Thousand and One Nights. . . . [But] Les Misérables is a miracle in the world of novel writing. . . . I have said over and over again, go read Les Misérables once. This Les Misérables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.[240]

He suggested reading The Grapes of Wrath to "an audience of writers and artists" and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the high-level state managers as he thought is shed light on the history of United States. "Isn’t this the government that massacred the original native inhabitants of the land of America? That wiped out the American Indians?...Today, one of the most tragic works of art is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . . This book still lives after almost 200 years," Khamenei said.[240]

Khamenei is fluent in Arabic in addition to his native languages, Persian and Azerbaijani.[241] He has translated several books into Persian from Arabic, including the works of the famous Egyptian theoretician Sayyid Qutb. He speaks Azerbaijani, his father's native language.[242][243]

In Mashhad he used to participate in the literary associations along with known poets and used to criticize poems.[32] In his analysis of the Persian poetry of Muhammad Iqbal, he states that "we have a large number of non-Persian-speaking poets in the history of our literature, but I cannot point out any of them whose poetry possesses the qualities of Iqbal's Persian poetry. Iqbal was not acquainted with Persian idiom, as he spoke Urdu at home and talked to his friends in Urdu or English. He did not know the rules of Persian prose writing."[244] Written some poems himself, he chose pseudonym 'Amin' for himself.[32]

Public diplomacy

Islamic awakening

In February 2011, Ali Khamenei supported the Egyptian uprising against their government, describing it as Islamic awakening instead of Arab Spring. Trying to communicate with Arab people, he addressed Egypt's protesters in Arabic. (Iranians are not Arabs, and Iran's official language is Persian) He introduced himself as "your brother in religion", while praising the "explosion of sacred anger".[245] Later, in "Islamic Awakening conferences" which were held in Tehran, Khamenei praised the Muslim youths of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain for what he described as Islamic awakening. He also paralleled these events with Islamic revolution in Iran during his Nowruz oration in 2011.[246] However, major protests against the Iranian regime also broke out throughout Iran in 2011, and they became known as the 2011–12 Iranian protests.

Succession

Works

Translations from Arabic:

  • Future in the realm of Islam[32]

See also

Footnotes

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References

  • Sadiki, Larbi (2014). Routledge Handbook of the Arab Spring: Rethinking Democratization. Routledge. ISBN 9781317650041. 

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