Ali Khamenei

Not to be confused with Ruhollah Khomeini.
Grand Ayatollah
Commander-in-Chief of Iran

Sayyed Ali Khamenei
2nd Supreme Leader of Iran
Assumed office
4 June 1989
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]
Member of the Parliament of Iran
In office
28 May 1980  13 October 1981
Constituency Tehran
Majority 1,405,976 (65.8%, ranked 5th)[2]
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
Mashhad, Khorasan, Iran
Political party Independent
Other political
Spouse(s) Khojaste Bagherzadeh (m. 1964)
  • Mostafa
  • Mojtaba
  • Masoud
  • Meysam
  • Hoda
  • Boshra
Relatives Hadi Khamenei (brother)
Residence House of Leadership
Alma mater Qom Seminary
Religion Shia Islam (Twelver)
Military service
Service/branch Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
Years of service 1979–1980
Commands Head of Revolutionary Guards[4]

Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei (Persian: سید علی حسینی خامنه‌ای pronounced [ʔæˈliː hoseiˈniː xɒːmeneˈʔiː] ; 17 July 1939)[5] is the second and current Supreme Leader of Iran[6] and a Muslim cleric.[6][7] Ali Khamenei succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution, after Khomeini's death, being elected as the new Supreme Leader by the Assembly of Experts on 4 June 1989, at age 49. Current Iranian president Hassan Rouhani arranged for Khamenei to get his first major post in the provisional revolutionary government as deputy defense minister.[8] Khamenei also served as the President of Iran from 1981 to 1989. In 2012, 2013, and 2014 Forbes selected him 21st, 23rd, and 19th, respectively, in the list of The World's Most Powerful People.[9]

Khamenei is the second longest serving autocrat 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.[10][11] Khamenei is a head of state and also chief commander of the armed forces, and is considered the most powerful political authority in Iran.[12][13] Khamenei issues decrees and makes the final decisions on economy, environment, foreign policy and everything else in Iran.[14][15][16][17] In August 2016, Khamenei directly warned the current president Hassan Rouhani that there should be no deviation from Khamenei's economic policies.[18] Khamenei controls an organization called Setad that was worth at least $95 billion in 2015. Setad gives Khamenei financial independence from parliament and the national budget.[19]

Khamenei has control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as the military and media.[20] Over the years, to cement his power base, Khamenei has also developed close relations with the military and security apparatus. He has built a vast bureaucracy inside the government and around his compound Beit Rahbari.[21] 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.[22] There have been also instances when the Guardian Council reversed its ban of particular people after being ordered to do so by Khamenei.[23] Khamenei has also fired and reinstated Presidential cabinet appointments.[24][25] Iran's Chief Justice, a Khamenei appointee, has warned the president of Iran against voicing opposition to Khamenei,[26][27][28] and also stated that it is illegal for the Assembly of Experts to supervise Khamenei.[29] In 2016, Khamenei ordered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his former ally with whom his relationship was strained after Ahmadinejad accused his son Mojtaba Khamenei of embezzling from the state treasury,[30] to not run for president again.[31][32][33][34][35]

There have been several major protests during Khamenei's reign, including the Iran student protests, July 1999, 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, when protesters chanted "death to the dictator",[36] [37] and ripped down pictures of Khamenei,[38] as well as the 2011–12 Iranian protests, among others.

Khamenei was the victim of an attempted assassination in June 1981 that paralysed his right arm.[39][40] According to his official website, Khamenei was arrested six times before being sent into exile for three years during Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's reign.[41] Six months after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which aimed to disarm Iraq of never found weapons of mass destruction, Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa saying that the production, stockpiling, and use of weapons of mass destruction are forbidden.[42] Khamenei is considered above criticism, and Iranians are regularly punished for insulting him.[43][44][45][46][47][48]

Early life and education

A teenage Khamenei

Khamenei claims to hold the title of Sayyid, which means that he claims direct descent from Muhammad. 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.[49][50][51] Born to Seyyed Javad Khamenei and Khadijeh Mirdamadi[52] (daughter of Hashem Mirdamadi) in Mashhad;[5][53] he is the second of eight children, and two of his brothers are also clerics. His younger brother, Hadi Khamenei, is a renowned newspaper editor and cleric.[54] Khamenei is of ethnic Azeri background[55][56][57][58] while one source claims that his mother was an ethnic Persian-speaker from Yazd.[59]

Khamenei had only a seminary education.[60] He attended religious studies classes at the basic and advanced levels in the hawza of Mashhad, under his mentors including Sheikh Hashem Qazvini, and Ayatollah Milani; he then went to Najaf in 1957.[61] After a short stay, he left Najaf for Mashhad, and in 1958 he settled in Qom. Khamenei attended the classes of Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi and Ruhollah Khomeini. Later, he was involved in the Islamic activities of 1963 which led to his arrest in Birjand in Southern Khorasan Province. Shortly thereafter, he was released and resumed teaching in Mashhad's religious schools and mosques, teaching the Nahj al-Balagheh.[61]

According to his official biography, Khamenei spent a "clandestine life" in Tehran, Iran from 1966 to 1967 after which he was arrested by the police and imprisoned. He married a woman named Khojaste in 1964.[62] Together they have four sons and two daughters.[62]

Literary scholarship

Khamenei is fluent in Arabic in addition to his native languages, Persian and Azerbaijani.[63] 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.[64][65]

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."[66]

Like many other politically active clerics at the time, Khamenei was far more involved with politics than religious scholarship.[67]

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.

Khomeini appointed Khamenei to the post of Tehran's Friday prayers Imam in 1979, after forced resignation of Hussein-Ali Montazeri from the post. He served briefly as the Deputy Minister for Defence 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. In June 1981, Khamenei narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the Mujaheddin-e Khalq when a bomb, concealed in a tape recorder at a press conference, exploded beside him. He was permanently injured, losing the use of his right arm.[68]

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

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".[69] 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.[70]

Khamenei as Tehran's Friday Prayer Imam in 1979

Khamenei helped guide the country 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.[68] After the Iraqi Army was expelled from Iran in 1982, Khamenei became one of the main opponents of Khomeini's decision to counter-invade into Iraq, an opinion Khamenei shared with Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, with whom he would later conflict during the 2009–10 Iranian election protests.[71]

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[72] after declaring that the assassination had been ordered by him with knowledge of Khamenei and Rafsanjani.[73] 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.[74] Darabi and Rhayel were finally released from prison on 10 December 2007 and deported back to their home countries.[75][76]

Supreme Leader

Ali Khamenei succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution, after Khomeini's death, being elected as the new Supreme Leader by the Assembly of Experts on 4 June 1989. Initially, a council of three members, Ali Meshkini, Mousavi Ardebili and Khamenei, was proposed for Leadership. After the assembly rejected the idea of a Leadership Council (Khamenei and Rafsanjani were both supporting a council), and Grand Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Golpaygani received only around 14 votes, Khamenei was elected Leader by 60 members out of 74 members present.[77][78][79] 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 and the Assembly of Experts reconvened on 6 August 1989, to reconfirm Khamenei with 60 votes out of 64 present.[80]

Khamenei with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, 12 April 2016

The concept that the ruler of the land should be an Islamic jurist serving as "guardian" (Guardian Jurist, Vali-e faqih ولی فقیه in Persian), was developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a lecture series made into a book. In this kind of theocratic "guardianship" leadership (Velayat-e Faqih, ولایت فقیه ), no political decision is lawful until it is approved by the Guardian Jurist who is called the Supreme Leader (رهبر Rahbar in Persian) by the Iranian constitution.

According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, during the occultation of the Wali al-'Asr, the "Guardianship and the Leadership of the Ummah" (Persian: ولایت امر و امامت امت) devolve upon the "just and pious jurist", who is fully aware of the circumstances of his age, courageous, resourceful, and possessed of administrative ability. Also, in another article states that the powers of government in the Islamic Republic of Iran are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the "Absolute Guardianship and the Leadership of the Ummah" (Persian: ولایت مطلقه امر و امامت امت) that refers to the Supreme Leader of Iran.[81]

Political philosophy and image

Khamenei along with Ruhollah Khomeini and Mohammad Beheshti, 1980

Khamenei's era as leader has differed from that of his predecessor Khomeini. He has continued Khomeini's policy of "balancing one group against another, making sure that no single side gains too much power."[68][82] But lacking Khomeini's charisma and clerical standing, he has developed networks, first inside the armed forces, and then among the clerics administering the major religious foundations (or bonyads), and seminaries of Qom and Mashhad.[82] According to Vali Nasr, he has brought many of the powers of the presidency with him into the office, turning it into an "omnipotent overseer of Iran's political scene". 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".[68]

Khamenei issues decrees and makes the final decisions on economy, environment, foreign policy and everything else in Iran.[83][84][85][86] Khamenei regularly meets with president, cabinet members, head and officials of the judiciary branch, parliamentarians, among others, and tells them what to do.[87][88][89][90][91][92] Khamenei has also fired and reinstated Presidential cabinet appointments.[93][94] 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.[95][96]

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.[69] Dealing with the presidents who have served during his reign, Khamenei has successfully sculpted President Rafsanjani's attempts to find a modus vivendi with the United States, President Khatami's aspirations for a more democratic Islamic state, and President Ahmadinejad's desire for confrontation.[69]

Election as Supreme Leader

Ruhollah Khomeini had recommended Khamenei to be his successor, stating, "He enjoys that level of ijtihad required to be a Wali al-Faqih". In the First Assembly of the Assembly of Experts after the demise of Khomeini, Ali Khamenei was elected as the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist by two-thirds of the votes.[97] Though Khamenei opposed this and argued heavily against the decision, he eventually accepted the decision after debating with the mujtahids (experts in many Islamic fields) of the Assembly.[98] This new amendment to the constitution had not been put to a referendum yet, so after voting for Khamenei, the Assembly of Experts internally titled him a temporary office holder until the new constitution became effective.

Dispute regarding status as Grand Ayatollah

Khamenei during a meeting with Qaris

His 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. However, four of Iran's dissident grand ayatollahs declined to recognize Khamenei as a marja.[99] 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 it increasingly is transitional.[100]

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Shirazi, who was under house-arrest at the time for his opposition to Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, did not accept Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a marja. According to "Human Rights in Iran" (2001) by Pace University's Reza Afshari, Shirazi was "indignant" over recognition of Khamenei as the Leader and a marja. Shirazi (who died in late 2001) apparently favored a committee of Grand Ayatollahs to lead the country. Other marjas who questioned the legitimacy of Khamenei's marja'yat were dissident clerics: Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Grand Ayatollah Hassan Tabatabai-Qomi and Grand Ayatollah Yasubedin Rastegar Jooybari.[99] In 1997, the more senior Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, "questioned the powers of the Leader" and was punished with the closure of his religious school, an attack on his office in Qom" and a period of house arrest.[7]

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.[101]

Amman Message

Khamenei is one of the Ulama signatories of the Amman Message, which gives a broad foundation for defining Muslim orthodoxy.[102] 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."[103]

Fatwa against nuclear weapons

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the Army officers graduation ceremony, September 2015

Khamenei has reportedly issued a fatwa saying the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam.[104] Iran's nuclear program has been a subject of international debate for decades. The Iranian government claims the purpose of its nuclear development is to produce electricity, while experts believe that Iran is technically able to enrich uranium for producing a bomb within a few months.[105] In late 2015, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani revealed that Khamenei considered pursuing weapons of mass destruction during the 1980s Iran–Iraq War.[106][107][108]

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.[109] It's been widely discussed by international officials and specifically recognized by the US administration. Doubts have been cast by some experts from US and Israeli-affiliated thinktanks on the existence of fatwa, its authenticity, its impact,[110] and its apparently religious nature.[111] The fatwa came after the period when former President Rafsanjani admitted the nuclear option was pursued from Pakistan, with Khamenei being the chief pursuer along with Rafsanjani.[112][113][114][115]

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.[116] Khamenei's official website specifically cites a 2010 version[117] of these statements in the fatwa section of the website in Farsi as a fatwa on "Prohibition of Weapons of Mass Destruction".[118] According to Abbas Milani, whether the fatwa "actually exists and even whether Mr. Khamenei is entitled to issue fatwas and finally how changeable are fatwas are all contested matters".[111] Karim Sadjadpour, argues that references to the fatwa by the US government may be in order to give the Iranians a route to compromise on the basis of religious beliefs rather than pressure from U.S.-led sanctions.[111]

In July 2016, German-intelligence claimed that Iran attempted to buy illegal nuclear technology.[119][120]

Relationship with the press

See also: Media of Iran
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.[7]

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 ...[69]

According to an investigative report by Reuters news agency, since around 2006 the organization known as Setad (or "Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam"), has developed into a conglomerate worth an estimated $95 billion. The organization—allegedly under the control of Khamenei—is said to provide financial resources giving him financial independence from "parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran's messy factional infighting" according to Reuters. The "revenue stream" provided by Setad, "helps explain why Khamenei has not only held for 24 years but also in some ways has more control than even his revered predecessor", according to the report.[130]

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.[131] 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.[132] The letters were called a blow to Khamenei's "status as a neutral arbiter and Islamic figurehead"[132] and an "unprecedented challenge to the country's most powerful man"[131] 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."[132]

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.[131]

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."[132][133]

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".[132]

Relations with President Ahmadinejad

Early in his presidency, Ahmadinejad was sometimes described as "enjoy[ing] the full backing" of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,[134] and even as being his "protege."[135] 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,"[136] and after the 2009 election fully endorsed Ahmadinejad against protesters.[137] However, as early as January 2008 signs of disagreement between the two men developed over domestic policies,[134] and by the period of 2010–11 several sources detected a "growing rift" between them.[138] The disagreement was described as centering on Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top adviser and close confidant of Ahmadinejad[139] and opponent of "greater involvement of clerics in politics",[140] 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.[135][141] 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.[138][141] Ahmadinejad's actions led to angry public attacks by clerics, parliamentarians and military commanders, who accused him of ignoring orders from the supreme leader.[139] Conservative opponents in parliament launched an "impeachment drive" against him,[140] four websites with ties to Ahmadinejad reportedly were "filtered and blocked",[135] 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.[138] On 6 May 2011, it was reported that Ahmadinejad had been given an ultimatum to accept the leader's intervention or resign,[142] and on 8 May he "apparently bowed" to the reinstatement, welcoming back Moslehi to a cabinet meeting.[143] The events have been said to have "humiliated and weakened" Ahmadinejad, though the president denied that there had been any rift between the two,[139] 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."[140]

In 2012, Khamenei ordered a halt to a parliamentary inquiry into Ahmadinejad's mishandling of the Iranian economy.[144]

Domestic policy

See also: Economy of Iran
Khamenei at a public speech

Khamenei is regarded by some as the figurehead of the country's conservative establishment.[7]

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."[145] Mesbah is a critic of reform movement in Iran and was seen as President Ahmadinejad's spiritual guide.

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.[146][147]

Additionally, Khamenei has stated that he believes in the importance of nuclear technology for civilian purposes because "oil and gas reserves cannot last forever."[148][149]

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.[150][151][152][153]

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.[154][155] 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.[156]


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,[157] while others have expressed concern about the group. Khamenei has approved new legislation against Bahá'ís in Iran and lessen their influence abroad.[158] 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.

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."[159] 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.[160] 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).[161] 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."[162]

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 in clear opposition 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).[163] This led to an upsring of fertility tourism in Iran.[164]

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.[165]

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.[7]

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.[166] Iran's judiciary works under the auspices of the supreme leader and is independent from the government.

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]."[167][168]

Ali Khamenei believes in gender segregation.[169]

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."[170]

In 2007, Iranian police under the direction of Khamenei launched a "Public Security Plan", arresting dozens of thugs to increase public security.[171]

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 his appointment of half of the members of the Council of Guardians, who approve or disqualify candidates for office. In February 2004 the Council of Guardians, disqualified thousands of candidates, including 80 incumbents (including the deputy speaker), many of the reformist members of the parliament, and all the candidates of the Islamic Iran Participation Front party from running in the 2004 parliamentary elections. It did not allow to run in the election. The conservatives won about 70% of the seats. The parliamentary election held on 20 February 2004 in Iran was a key turning point in that country's political evolution. The election marked the conclusive end of the campaign for political and social reform initiated by Mohammad Khatami after he was elected president in a landslide vote in May 1997.[172]

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).[69] 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.[69]

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.[173] "By Allah's favor, the presidential election was accurately held, and the current matters should be pursued legally."[174] 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.[175] In particular, he singled out Britain, perceiving the country as the "most evil" of its enemies.[176] He said that the Iranian people will respond with an "iron fist" if Western powers meddle in Iran's internal affairs.[177]

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.[178]

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.[179]

The Iranian government has regularly been criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups for its human rights record. Areas of criticism include the use of torture; the holding of political prisoners; the nation's election process; and poor correspondence between seriousness of crime and magnitude of punishment.[180][181]

On his website, Khamenei wrote that "any association with the misleading Bahá'í Faith should be avoided."[182]

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."[183] His foreign policy is said to steer a course that avoids either confrontation or accommodation with the West.[69]

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[184]) 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.[185] He has also blamed the United States for "blind terrorism" after its invasion of Iraq.[186] 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."[187]

In June 2011, Khamenei accuses 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."[188]

In June 2012, Khamenei warned Western governments that the mounting sanctions on the country will only deepen the Iranians' hatred of the West.[189]

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.[190]

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.[191] 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."[192][193][194][195][196][197] U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the comments reflected policy, it was "very disturbing", and "very troubling".[191][198]

Condemnation of September 11 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.[199] 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."[199]

Zionism and Israel

Khamenei is an opponent of the State of Israel and Zionism, and has been widely criticized, along with the entire Iranian government, for rhetoric described as racist and anti-Semitic, and for making threats against the State of Israel. On 15 December 2000, Khamenei called Israel a "cancerous tumor of a state" that "should be removed from the region"[200][201][202][203] and in 2013 called Israel a "rabid dog",[204] as well as in 2014 during the Gaza war.[205] In 2014 a tweet, from an account widely quoted as being associated with Khamenei, claimed that there was no cure for Israel but its annihilation.[206][207][208][209]

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", and that he had raised the issue "to spell an end to any debates".[210] In 2013, Khamenei accused France of "kneeling" before Israel, while saying that Israel was led by people unworthy of the "title human".[211]

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."[212]

In a September 2009 sermon, Khamenei was quoted as saying, that "the Zionist cancer is gnawing into the lives of Islamic nations."[213] 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."[214]

Khamenei instead proposed that "Palestinian refugees should return and Muslims, Christians and Jews could choose a government for themselves, excluding immigrant Jews."[215]

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".[216] For the first time, the remark was published in Khamenei's official website and his Twitter.[217][218] 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.[219]

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".[220][221][222]

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".[223] 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.[224] However, major protests against the Iranian regime also broke out throughout Iran in 2011, and it became known as the 2011–12 Iranian protests.


Personal life

See also: Setad

Khamenei is married to Khojaste Bagherzadeh with whom he has four sons (Mostafa, Mojtaba, Masood, and Meysam) and two daughters (Boshra and Hoda).[225] One of his sons, Mojtaba, married a daughter of Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.[226]

According to Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Khamenei has a decent life "without it being luxurious".[227] Khamenei's official residence is the Beit Rahbari compound.[228][21][229] Khamenei rides around in BMW cars.[230] Ali Khamenei 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.[231] In 2015, Khamenei claimed he had a personal net worth of only $150 million.[232]


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.[233]

On 9 September 2014, Khamenei underwent prostate surgery in what his doctors described in state news media as a "routine operation".[234][235] According to a report by Le Figaro, Western intelligence sources said Khamenei has prostate cancer.[236][237]

Government posts

Ali Khamenei in military uniform during Iran–Iraq war

Since the founding of the Islamic Republic, Khamenei has held many government posts.[5]


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

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Mostafa Chamran
Minister of Defense
Succeeded by
Javad Fakoori
Preceded by
Mohammad-Ali Rajai
President of Iran
Succeeded by
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
New office Chairperson of the Expediency Discernment Council
Preceded by
Ruhollah Khomeini
Supreme Leader of Iran
Military offices
Preceded by
Ruhollah Khomeini
Commander-in-Chief of Iranian Armed Forces
Party political offices
Preceded by
Mohammad-Javad Bahonar
Secretary-General of the Islamic Republican Party
Succeeded by
Party dissolved
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