Ali Khamene'i: The Semi-Mullah

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 17, 2009

Despite his grand and exalted position in the Islamic Republic, it is important to bear in mind that Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i is hardly a theological titan. I made this point in my recent column on Iran. Nice to see Robert Baer reinforce it:

Iran is not a theocracy. It is a military dictatorship headed by Khamenei and advised by a coterie of generals from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Army, as well as hard-liners in the secret police. Ahmadinejad is little more than the spokesman for this group. He may have a say in the day-to-day management of the economy and other parts of Iranian administration–but all important decisions, particularly those related to Iran’s national security, including rigging presidential elections, are made by Khamenei.

What makes this such a tenuous situation is that Khamenei’s legitimacy has been in question from the day he succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. It was widely understood among intelligence analysts that Khamenei did not have the religious credentials to succeed Khomeini as supreme leader, Iran’s head of state who is supposed to be the most learned religious cleric. In fact, Khamenei is not even really an ayatollah–his license was in effect bought–and he has no popular religious following as other legitimate ayatollahs do. It doesn’t help that Iranian leaders of Khomeini’s generation have never particularly liked Khamenei and see him as a man who muscled his way into power, perhaps even by killing Khomeini’s son, the person most likely to challenge his rule.

I have to confess that I didn’t know about the allegations that Khamene’i killed Khomeini’s son. I wouldn’t put it past him.

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