The Supreme Leader
- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s most powerful official. As supreme leader, he has constitutional authority or substantial influence over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as well as the military and media.
- Khamenei lacks the religious credentials and popular support of his predecessor, revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As a result, Khamenei has been more insecure and vulnerable to criticism from religious and political circles.
- Khamenei had tried to cultivate the image of a magnanimous guide above the political fray. But his support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the disputed 2009 elections—amid mass protests and unprecedented political fissures—further undermined his legitimacy and support.
- Khamenei is primarily interested in protecting his power and ensuring the survival of the Islamic theocracy, which he believes is based on justice, independence, self-sufficiency and piety.
- Khamenei’s foreign policy is driven by animosity to the United States and Israel. It is unclear whether he could abandon this position without undermining the raison d’etre of the Islamic system.
- Prospects for reconciliation with the United States are low while Khamenei remains in power. At the same time, any engagement policy Iran that aims to ignore or bypass Khamenei is equally unlikely to succeed.
- In both the domestic and international context, Khamenei is averse to compromise under pressure, fearful of projecting weakness and inviting greater pressure.
- Khamenei worries about opposition to his rule among top clerics in Qom, but opposition within the Revolutionary Guards would be far more dangerous for him.
- Khamenei has not appointed an heir apparent and there are no obvious successors, should he die or be removed from power. The supreme leader could be replaced with a shura (consultative) council, although the selection of a council could face many problems.
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