The Supreme Leader in Iran and his possible successor
By: Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD Int. Law
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 in Iran. Recently it has come to the forefront of political discussion again.
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 Iranian fabrication. 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 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 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 In its evolution, the system took shape as an outdated dictatorship of the religious class, artificially lashed together with a series of modern institutions, such as a parliament and an executive, that served only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.
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 or fourth rank, which confronts him with a serious jurisprudential problem.
Chief among the architects of velayat-e faqih and its inclusion in the Iranian constitution was Ayatollah Hosein 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.”(//www.rfi.fr/actufa/articles/108/article_4826.asp dated 30/12/2008).
Meeting with leaders of the Freedom Movement of Iran in Qom in January 2009, Montazeri said, “Issues such as relations with the U.S. or other states are essentially out of the jurisdiction of the supreme leader,” adding, “Even the prophet did not have absolute velayat-e faqih.”( Pardis 16:6, in Persian)
Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who was instrumental in elevating Khamenei to the position of supreme leader, also seems to have had second thoughts. He has called for a council to replace the one-man position of supreme leader and questioned the logic that a single person, however learned, could be an expert in all fields and the “focal point of imitation” for Shiites in all matters.
Since his elevation to the position of supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei has moved vigorously to eviscerate high-ranking Islamic scholars in the government of Iran with the help of the IRGC.
The clerics have reason to be unhappy. The trend leading to their loss of prestige and power continues, and is evidenced by the following:
1- Khamenei’s consolidation of his grip over all power centers in Iran
2- Displacement of mullahs that oppose Khamenei
3- Rising power of the IRGC and greater militarism in society
It seems until such time that Iran gets this notion out of its way, many options will be closed to it. The velayat-e motlaqeh-ye faqih, or absolute political authority of an expert in Islamic jurisprudence over the regime of Iran is inherently opposed to notions like democracy, freedom and human rights and respect to fundamental rights of the people.
Who is going to replace Khamenei?
It is several years that guessing about the Iranian leadership after Ayatollah Khamenei is being discussed. He is now 71 years old and according to many sources, he is suffering from various sicknesses such as prostate cancer. He has lost almost a hand and perhaps more in bombing events in 1989.
The options are in various ways. Some persons, such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani have at least indicated that they favor a collective leadership. However, the persons that are mentioned as his possible replacement are: Mahmoud Hasehmi Sharoodi , Sadegh Larijani and Mojtaba Khamenei.
Some of the people, mention Hashemi Rafsanjani. It is not a secret that he was instrumental in bringing Khamenei to leadership and he may have ambitions to be the leader. However, the regime has working against him in the last several years.
Another person, worthy of mentioning is Sayed Hassam Khomenei . 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. In an interview they 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” ( //www.sunni.news.net/ar/articles.aspx?selected_articles_no_9019 quoting Emrouz, 21 Khordad 1389)
Also, on 14 Khordad 1389, several important clerics, such as Mazaher, Mohammad Javad Fazel Lankarani, Rasti Kashani, Vahid Khorasani, Javadi Amooli, and Mohammadi Ghilani expressed their concerns about the treatment that Seyyed Hassan Khomeini was getting. This could also be interpreted as their worries about the developments such as the project of making Mojtaba Khamenei as the future leader through the intervention of the military and security forces.
It seems that the task more difficult than guessing the replacement of the current leader is the processes of electing the leader after the present one. If we suppose that the regime remains in power and the Velayate Faghih (Government of the chief Shiite expert in Islamic Jurisprudence), who are the influential elements in determining the leader?
This has precedence: The time that Khomenei died. At that time, the Council of Experts [Majles Khobreghan] that had 86 members was active and it voted in favor of 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 Khomenei, that they had the military and intelligence and the Majles and the administration under their control. They all played their role.
Rafsajani invoked a memory of the late leader in which ( as Rafsanjani claimed) Khomenei had opted for Khamenei as his replacement. Such a memory could remain just a memory if the influential group did not intend to make Khamenei the replacement of Khomenei.
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 holding the military, intelligence and security forces in the present day Iran?
This may happen at the last moments of the leader’s death or immediately after that. The telephones ring and those in charge of the strings tell those in the legal positions who should come out of the hat. Those who may have opposing views will be threatened and if necessary eliminated. The plainclothes elements that clearly act as the army of the influential figures will make those who are in doubt to make their decisions.
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 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. The leader is the source of their position and posts. They even tell the same things that the center tells then in the congregational Friday prayer of various places.
The present arrangement of the forces in Iran means that the most important element in choosing the next leader in Iran will be IRGC. They are going to choose someone that suits them.
As it happened before, this time also the future leader will be determine by those holding the main strings of power. 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. Sadegh Larijani is yet to prove himself and Mojataba is the in the process. People have no role.
During the tenure of Khamenei, he has managed to buy the loyalty of many Mullahs of Qom using the money not only from the government but also the administration of the entities such as the Astane Qudes Razavi which is in charge of the Imam Reza’s Shrine in Mashhad and its properties all over the world. He pays a good salary to the religious students who once used to live like the lowest ranks of the society. However, this has not led to his acceptance by everybody as the Marja or source of the emulation in Iran. ( //www.radiofarda.com/content/f4_khamenei_visit_Qom_Mujtaba )
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. ( //www.radiofarda.com/artcleprintview/2134333.html ) . This was in fact, a support for his leadership.
It is interesting that 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 in the election of Khamenei as the leader, it is important to find a person to play the same role for the replacement of Khamenei and Hadad Adel may well be a good candidate for this issue. 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 have paramilitary forces.
It seems Mojtaba is the only person among the present possible candidates that 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 and ( IRGC ) and security ( police and intelligence) and this is very important for the military security forces in the transfer of power in Iran. 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 the leader without those connections to those sources.
Mojtaba has strong relations with these institutions through persons like Hussein Taeb ( deputy of the IRGC in Intelligence. A close friend of Mojtaba), Mohammad Mohammadi Gholpayeghani (the Chief of Staff of Khamenei and father in law of Khamenei’s eldest daughter), Asghar Hejazi (the security chief of Leadership office).
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