United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Khamenei at 25 Years - What is his legacy?

      June 3 marks the 25th anniversary of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death —and the emergence of new Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The following are comments by The Iran Primer’s original authors on Khamenei’s quarter century in power.

 
Alireza Nader
            Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became the leader of a revolution that overthrew Iran’s monarchy and established the current Islamic Republic. Khomeini was shrewd, calculating, in some ways dogmatic, and in other ways politically savvy. It was due to Khomeini that velayat-e-faqih (guardianship of the jurist) was established as the basis of Iran’s political system. Khomeini had many enemies, but he ruthlessly vanquished most and established the modern world’s only true theocracy.
            His successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has continued Khomeini’s legacy, but has faced many challenges and setbacks. Whereas Khomeini was respected by the theocratic elite, Khamenei is viewed as divisive and dictatorial, favoring certain conservative factions over the others. His support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, especially in the face of the 2009 disputed presidential election, tarnished his reputation among many Iranians.
            Today Khamenei rules over a nation exhausted by the revolution and unsure of its future. He rules through force and patronage rather than respect and authority. 
            Alireza Nader is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.
 
Juan Cole
            Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 25 years in power have seen Iran become more and more isolated from the world community and the world economy. Iran has few friends and even those among the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) that have correct relations with Tehran have voted for tough sanctions on it. Khamenei's backing for the Baath regime in Syria and for the Dawa government in Iraq has made Iran deeply unpopular in the Arab world, wiping out the soft power gains of 2006 when Iran stood with Hizbollah in Lebanon against Israel.
            Domestically, the ideology Khamenei represents is accepted by only a small minority of the population, and there have been two major reform movements, the 2nd of Khordad and the Green Movement, against his authoritarian puritanism. He deeply damaged his and his regime's credibility by attempting to steal the presidential election in 2009. In the 1970s, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi unrealistically hoped for Iran to equal France by the year 2000. In 2014, France's nominal GDP is about $2.5 trillion. Iran's is about $550 billion, about the same as the tiny country of Norway, also an oil state, and as Poland, which has only half Iran's population. Khamenei in many ways has mired Iran in cultural, political and economic stagnation.
            Juan Cole is professor of history at the University of Michigan and runs the Informed Comment weblog.
 
Bruce Riedel

            Very few expected Khamenei to succeed 25 years ago with Iran devastated by eight years of war with Iraq. Iran seemed to be in decline, the future lay with Baghdad. Now Khamenei has outlasted all his regional rivals from Saudi Arabia’s late King Fahd to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  Iraq, thanks primarily to America, is Iran’s junior ally and partner in keeping Bashar al Assad in power in Damascus.  Khamenei is no Bismarck, he has just been lucky to have foolish opponents.
            Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, was special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Haleh Esfandiari
            Iranian women have not fared well under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei. Has made it a practice to receive women from different walks of life a couple of times a year. His message to them is always the same: the important role women play in an Islamic society, with special emphasis on motherhood and caring for the well-being of the family. He did not object to raising the age of marriage for girls from 9 to 13, but failed to support the abolition of polygamy or the abolition of the right of a husband to unilaterally divorce his wife. He has led the campaign to dismantle the family planning program in Iran, calling on women to have more children, and he does not see the need for Iranian women to have equal access to employment. He has never criticized the morality police and the excesses of the paramilitary Basij in harassing women on the streets. Despite all this, Iranian women continue to be the force for change in the Islamic Republic and seem undeterred by new restrictive laws, brutality on the streets, and being preached at all the time.
            Haleh Esfandiari is director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of “Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran’s Islamic Revolution” and My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran.”
 
Hadi Ghaemi
            After twenty-five years of rule, Seyyed Ali Khamenei is one of the longest ruling leaders of Iran in the past century. His rise from a relatively insignificant cleric with the rank of a Hojattoleslam to an Ayatollah and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic is remarkable.
            A stark indication of Khamenei’s ruthlessness is his determination to sideline political leaders close to the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. The aftermath of the 2009 election and the subsequent and ongoing house arrest of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, both confidants of Ayatollah Khomeini, demonstrate Khamenei’s instinct for survival clearly trumps political loyalties.
            Khamenei’s distancing of Khomeini loyalists also reflects the Supreme Leader’s fundamental ideological predisposition. Khomeini was willing to integrate elements of modernity when it served his or the new Republic’s interest; Khamenei is not. Indeed this is a man fearful of modern trends culturally and politically speaking, who perceives modernity as an unacceptable risk to his vision if not survival.
            Yet Khamenei has proven to be a shrewd politician who has solidified his position over time despite his lack of personal charisma. He has groomed a loyal following in the intelligence and security apparatus, and the Revolutionary Guards Corps. Whether during the student uprising of 1999 or the post-election crackdown of 2009, Khamenei has sidelined political rivals and put down popular challenges.

            Khamenei’s legacy will be defined as much by what happens to the office of the Supreme Leader after him, as it will be defined by his actions in that position. He has elevated himself to Absolute Supreme Leader, recalling the position of monarchs who ruled Iran for centuries before the Islamic Republic.
           Hadi Ghaemi is an Iran analyst and the Executive Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Kevan Harris
            Neither in Iran's 1979 constitution nor its 1989 revisions does the term “Supreme Leader” ever appear. The Leader is designated as both the absolute religious jurist as well as the supervisor of a multitude of state institutions. To the consternation of Iran's conservatives, however, neither source of power has been successfully monopolized by the Leader's office. The name's the thing which provides some clues: Islamic Republic.
            In the sphere of theology, Shiism provides a wealth of competing interpretations — used as a tactic by Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Abdolkarim Soroush, former President Mohammad Khatami, or even President Hassan Rouhani —with which to challenge state prerogative. Islamic law, after all, has traditionally been a source of protection for the community against the encroachments of the state.
            In the sphere of politics, the necessity of legitimating the post-revolutionary government through popular participation means that top-down dictates can sometimes be checked by bottom-up people power—often with the surprise of the people themselves. The hard efforts spent declaring the supreme-ness of the Leader — it's even on his own website — should be read as an inverse clue to the actual state of affairs. In another time, the idea of the European “absolutist state” reflected the attempts by kings to evoke full sovereign power — l'état, c'est moi — but not the political reality. The unintended legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini's fusion of state and religion was the fragmentation of sacred religious legitimacy within the mundane realm of modern political rule. Try as he might, Khamenei has not been able to put this mischievous jinni back in the bottle.
            Kevan Harris is a sociologist and Associate Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at Princeton University.
 
Dov Zakheim
            Ayatollah Khamenei has always been viewed by his colleagues as more politician than religious leader. As such, and to prove his religious bona fides, he has always taken a hard line on any issue that has come his way. In addition to being a hardline defender of the faith, he has presided over Iran's terrorist activities, and its determined effort to develop a nuclear weapons capability. He has established the Revolutionary Guards as the most powerful single force in Iran. Ultimately, it will be he and the Guards who will determine whether to reach an accommodation with the West, and, in particular, whether Iran will accept any kind of accord that restricts its long-term nuclear ambitions.
            Dov S. Zakheim is senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
 
Gary Sick
            True revolutionaries are visionaries who are far more concerned with their vision than with the mere problems of running a government. Khomeini was a true revolutionary. His vision of a theocratic state has forever changed the politics of Iran, but it has not translated into effective governance. The tension between vision and practice is the issue that will occupy Khomeini's successors for the next generation and beyond.
            Gary Sick, principal White House aide for Iran and the Persian Gulf on the Carter administration’s National Security Council, is now executive director of Gulf/2000, an international online research project on the Persian Gulf at Columbia University.
 
Farideh Farhi
           Twenty-five years after his passing, the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini, like the legacy of other men whose name and towering presence is tightly bound to a world-historical revolution, remains conflicted and contested. There are those who only remember his ideologically stern and ferocious defense of the revolution at all cost while there are others who see in his famous and oft-repeated words, "standard is the people's vote," a call for pragmatism, flexibility, and adaptability to what is happening on the ground. Even his bold act of taking responsibility for ending the Iran-Iraq War, drinking from the poison chalice as he called it, is contested today with some in Iran saying that he was pressured to accept UNSC resolution 598 by folks who no longer had the grit to fight until victory. The nature of contestation in Iran today continues to be about which of his imagined sides should dominate and not about laying his legacy to rest. 
            Farideh Farhi is an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
 
Click here for full biographies of the authors.
 
Click here for the authors' chapters.
 
 
Photocredit: Khamenei.ir
 

Khamenei at 25 Years - Thoughts and Edicts

     For 25 years, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been the guiding force behind the Islamic Republic. He has constitutional authority or significant influence over both the government and military. On domestic issues, Khamenei encourages Iranians to become strong and independent so they can stand up to foreign powers. And he stresses the need to maintain the country’s religious character in the face of Western culture and globalization. On foreign policy, Khamenei’s outlook is driven by animosity to the West, especially the United States. The following are excerpted remarks by Khamenei on key issues from the past three decades and images from his office's Facebook account.

 

Nuclear Weapons
            “The Iranian people and their officials have declared time and again that the nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden in Islam and they do not have such a weapon. But the western countries and America in particular through false propaganda claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs which is totally false and a breach of the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation.”
            June 4, 2009 in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death

           “Nuclear weapons are neither a security provider, nor a cause of consolidation of political power but rather a threat to both. The events of the 1990s proved that possessing such weapons would not save any regimes including the Soviet Union. Today as well, we know countries who are faced with fatal torrents of insecurity, despite having nuclear bombs.”
            Aug. 30, 2012

The United States
            “If we are to find a regime in the world which is evil towards everyone and plots against everyone, that regime is the American regime. It is the United States of America which is evil towards everyone, as wherever it strides in, it does so with aggressiveness, arrogance, voracity and insolence.”
            Oct. 29, 2008

U.S.-Iran Relations
            “The main center for designing machinations against the Iranian nation is America and today after the passage of 34 years, whenever the word ‘enemy' is mentioned, the Iranian nation quickly thinks of America.”
            March 23, 2013 in an address marking Persian New Year
 
U.N. Security Council

            “The UN Security Council has an illogical, unjust and completely undemocratic structure and mechanism. This is a flagrant form of dictatorship, which is antiquated and obsolete and whose expiry date has passed. It is through abusing this improper mechanism that U.S. and its accomplices have managed to disguise their bullying as noble concepts and impose it on the world.
            “They protect the interests of the West in the name of ‘human rights.’ They interfere militarily in other countries in the name of ‘democracy.’ They target defenseless people in villages and cities with their bombs and weapons in the name of ‘combating terrorism.’”
            Aug. 30, 2012
 
Economy
            “Of course, our need for resistance economy is more than other countries, because on the one hand, our country is connected to the global economy and is determined to continue this relationship and [therefore it is] naturally affected by global economic trends. On the other hand, the Islamic establishment, due to its independence-seeking... [nature] and its insistence on not being influenced by the policies of the world powers, is under attack and the subject of ill intention and sabotage.”
            “Social justice is one of the most important [macroeconomic] factors...because the Islamic establishment does not accept economic prosperity without social justice and with any economic progress in the country the conditions of the less fortunate... [members of society] must be improved.”
            March 11, 2014 to a group of economic officials
 
Men and Women
            “Islam considers man strong and woman delicate and elegant. This is neither an insult to women nor an insult to men; this is ignoring neither man’s nor woman’s rights; it is actually a proper view on their nature. They are in fact equal on the pan balance, that is, when you put the delicate and elegant gender which is a source of peace and beauty at home on one pan balance, and the managing, working gender which is a source of trust, reliance and support for the woman on the other pan balance, the two pans weigh equal. Neither of them is preferred to the other one.”
            March 12, 2000
 
Dangerous Freedoms and Western Hypocrisy
            “[Western-style] freedom in the economy, political scene and moral issues…reflect terrible, bitter, heinous and in some cases abhorrent realities in the Western society. The results are discrimination, bullying, warmongering and double standards towards noble issues like human rights and democracy.”
            Nov. 14, 2012 in a meeting with academics and teachers
 
Sectarianism
            “Discord among Shias and Sunnis is a sword in the hands of our enemies. Publicizing differences, expressing religious disagreements in an outspoken way, speaking out words that can fuel hatred is one of the means which our enemy makes maximum use of. We should not do something to help the enemy succeed in his goal and sharpen his sword. “

             April 20, 2014

Globalization
            “Countries assume that globalization will open up global markets to them. But when it means that an independent nation should become a cog in the wheel of western capitalism, it should not be accepted by any independent nation. If genuine globalization was to be practiced, all countries would be able to preserve their economic and political independence. Otherwise, the globalization introduced by organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization - all of which are American means of arrogance - is worthless.”
            Feb. 27, 1988
   
Syria
            “The two sides of the conflict in Syria are not Shiite and Sunni, rather they are the supporters and opponents of anti-Zionist resistance. Neither the Syrian government is a Shiite government, nor is the secular and anti-Islam opposition a Sunni group.”
            April 29, 2013 at the Islamic Awakening and Ulama Conference in Tehran
 
Islam
            “Islam has come for the liberation of mankind both from the chains and cuffs of arrogant and oppressive systems’ pressure on different classes of people and thus establish a just government for the mankind and to liberate [mankind] from wrong thoughts, ideas and illusions ruling man’s life.”
            Jan. 19, 2014
 
Israel
            “If the Zionist regime makes a wrong move, the Islamic Republic of Iran will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.”
            March 21, 2013 in an address to a crowd in Mashhad for Persian New Year
 

Holocaust


            “Does anybody dare talk about the Holocaust in Europe? The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it's uncertain how it has happened.”
            March 21, 2014 in an address marking Persian New Year

 

Gallup Poll: Iranians Not So Happy

            On June 3, Gallup rereleased its most recent rankings of positive emotions, with Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians reported the “highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq,” according to the study. Gallup highlighted its findings two weeks after six young Iranians – including three women without hijab – were arrested for appearing in a YouTube video singing along to Pharrell William’s “Happy.” The dancers were released one day later, after an international outcry on social media against their arrest. A tweet on President Hassan Rouhani's semi-official account may have indicated disapproval of the detention: “Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.”

            The latest version of “Happy” from Iran features Pharrell William’s “puppet fans.” The following clip was posted on May 31 by animator and cartoonist Mehdi Alibeygi.
 
            The following are excerpts from Gallup’s report.
 
            Iran's leadership is right to be concerned about the country's happiness. Gallup's most recent rankings of positive emotions find Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians also reported the highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq.
 
      Gallup measured negative emotions in 138 countries in 2013 by asking people whether they experienced a lot of anger, stress, sadness, physical pain, and worry the previous day. Gallup compiles the "yes" results into a Negative Experience Index score for each country. The higher the score, the more pervasive negative emotions are in a country.
 
      Iranians have every right to feel negative, given the high unemployment coupled with high inflation in their country that has crippled their ability to provide for their families, along with international sanctions over their nuclear program that have hurt their livelihoods. Additionally, 48% of Iranians in 2013 said they would not recommend their city or area where they live to a friend or associate as a place to live.
 
 
Survey Methods
            Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2013 in 138 countries and areas. For results based on the total global sample, the margin of sampling error is less than ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. For results based on country-level samples, the margin of error ranges from a low of ±2.1 to a high of ±5.3. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
 
Click here for the full report.
 

ISIS: 5 Proposals to Avoid in an Iran Deal

            Five commonly discussed proposals for an Iran nuclear deal are flawed, according to a new Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) report. They include:

• 1)increasing allowed centrifuge numbers significantly while lowering low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride (and oxide) stocks toward zero;
• 2) allowing Iran to maintain in the Arak reactor a core holding
significantly more fuel channels than required for fueling the reactor with low enriched
uranium fuel;
• 3) agreeing that Iran’s centrifuge plants can maintain installed but
non-enriching centrifuges designated as in excess under the limits of the deal;
• 4) leaving the resolution of Iran’s past and possibly ongoing nuclear
weaponization and military fuel cycle efforts until after a deal is concluded and economic and financial sanctions are loosened, if not removed; and
• 5) lack of constraints banning in a verifiable manner future Iranian
illicit nuclear procurement efforts
 
           “If accepted, these compromises would create a final agreement that would be unstable, overly reversible, and likely unverifiable,” warns David Albright, Olli Heinonen and Andrea Stricker. The following are excerpts from the report with a link to the full text.
 
Bad Compromise 1: Increasing centrifuge numbers above 2,000-4,000 IR-1 centrifuges
while lowering low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride (and oxide) stocks toward
zero.
           In addition to lowering centrifuge numbers significantly, the agreement should aim to lower Iran’s stocks of LEU and natural uranium. One modification in the ISIS model concerns 3.5 percent LEU stocks, which should be lowered further down to a 1-5 tonnes. Lowering both quantities would make it more difficult for Iran to break out and would create a more irreversible, stable agreement. However, lowering stocks without lowering centrifuge numbers is not a workable proposition.
 
            Treating these two, reinforcing steps instead as a zero-sum game leads to the first bad idea. In this scheme, the number of centrifuges would be raised substantially, to 8,000 or more IR-1 centrifuges or equivalent number of advanced ones, while lowering the stocks of 3.5 percent LEU toward zero.
 
Bad Compromise 2: Deciding that Iran can maintain significantly more fuel channels in the Arak reactor core than it requires for fueling the reactor with low enriched uranium fuel
            Despite the merits of modifying the Arak reactor, a more effective compromise remains upgrading the Arak reactor to a modern light water research reactor (LWR) which can be designed to be far more capable of making medical isotopes than the current Arak reactor design. It can also be designed to make plutonium production in targets much more difficult to accomplish than the Arak reactor or older style research reactors.
 
Bad Compromise 3: Agreeing that Iran can maintain at an enrichment plant installed but non-enriching centrifuges designated as in excess under the limits of the deal
            The extra centrifuges in excess of this limit should be removed from the centrifuge plants. If they are not removed Iran could quickly reconstitute its larger enrichment program, and thereby a sizeable breakout capability, if it decided to renege on the deal. Thus, any proposal to keep excess centrifuges installed should be rejected.
 
Bad Compromise 4: Leaving the resolution of Iran’s past and possibly ongoing nuclear weaponization and military fuel cycle efforts until after a deal is concluded and economic and financial sanctions are loosened, if not removed
            Addressing the IAEA’s concerns about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs is fundamental to any long-term agreement. Although much of the debate about an agreement with Iran rightly focuses on Tehran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production capabilities, an agreement that side steps the military issues would risk being unverifiable.  Moreover, the world would not be so concerned if Iran had never conducted weaponization activities aimed at building a nuclear weapon. After all, Japan has enrichment activities but this program is not regarded with suspicion. Trust in Iran’s intentions, resting on solid verification procedures, is critical to a serious agreement.
 
Bad Compromise 5: Lack of constraints banning in a verifiable manner future Iranian
illicit nuclear procurement efforts
            The P5+1 must include in the agreement a provision that for the duration of a comprehensive agreement nations maintain some sanctions or limitations on the supply of sensitive nuclear and nuclear-related exports to Iran. This list of goods would be expected to contain additional goods not found on dual-use lists maintained under export control regimes but critical to Iran’s nuclear programs.
            An agreement will also need to allow for monitored Iranian purchases for its remaining nuclear programs and civilian industries while banning the rest. A potential way to do this is seen in the creation of the humanitarian goods channel created under the interim deal. In the case of a long term provision limiting nuclear related goods, at the beginning of the period of the comprehensive solution, a procurement channel should be established for controlled items used in Iran’s nuclear programs.
 
Click here for the full report.
 

Report: Limiting Iran’s Enrichment Capacity

            Limiting Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium may be the most challenging issue in talks between the Islamic Republic and the world’s six major powers, according to new analysis by the Arms Control Association’s Daryl Kimball. The international community is particularly concerned about Iran’s centrifuges, which can be used to enrich to both reactor grade, 3.5 percent, and weapons grade, 90 percent. The following are excerpts from the brief.

            After talks between European powers and Iran broke down in 2005, Iran increased its centrifuge capacity from 300 first-generation IR-1 machines at one site to about 19,000 installed IR-1 machines at two sites. Today, about 10,200 are operating; 1,000 advanced IR-2M centrifuges are installed at the Natanz enrichment plant, but are not operational.
Iran and the P5+1 should be able to agree that Iran will limit uranium enrichment to levels of less than 5 percent, keep stocks of its enriched uranium near zero, and halt production-scale work at the smaller Fordow enrichment plant and convert it to a research-only facility.
 
            Yet, the two sides must find a formula that limits Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity at the Natanz site in a way that precludes an Iranian dash to produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons without being detected and disrupted but allows for Iran’s “practical” civilian needs, as the Nov. 24 interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 puts it.
Iran’s operating IR-1 machines, with about 9,000 separative work units (SWU) per year of combined capacity, could allow Tehran to enrich natural uranium stock into a sufficient quantity of HEU (25 kilograms) for one nuclear bomb in about six months if such an effort were not detected first.
 
             If Iran tried to build a militarily significant nuclear arsenal, it would take considerably more than a year to amass enough material for additional weapons, assemble and perhaps test a nuclear device, and mate the bombs with an effective means of delivery.
 
            An agreement that significantly reduced Iran’s present-day enrichment capacity would increase the time even further and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its nuclear fuel needs, which are very limited for the next decade or more. Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor produces medical isotopes, and Iran already has enough material to fuel that reactor for years to come. If the Arak reactor is modified to use 3.5 percent enriched uranium fuel, it might require no more than 1,000 SWU.
 
            Negotiators can square the circle in several ways. The comprehensive agreement could allow for appropriate increases in Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity in the late stages of the deal. Such adjustments could be conditioned on Iran providing sufficient information to the IAEA to show that any past experiments with possible military dimensions have been discontinued and demonstrating that it cannot obtain foreign nuclear fuel supplies for the new nuclear power reactors that it builds.
 
Click here for the full brief.
 

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