The Supreme Leader
- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s most powerful official. As supreme leader, he has either direct or indirect control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as the military and media.
- Khamenei has been Iran’s supreme leader since 1989, making him 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. He hasn’t left Iran since becoming Supreme Leader.
- Khamenei's paramount concerns are to preserve his own power and ensure the survival of the Islamic theocracy, which he believes is based on principles of justice, independence, self-sufficiency and piety.
- Khamenei's overt support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 reelection—amid unprecedented mass protests—undermined his image as a dispassionate guide who stays above the political fray.
- Opposition to the United States and Israel has defined Khamenei’s foreign policy. It’s unlikely he will fully abandon these positions, fearful of undermining the raison d’etre of the Islamic system.
In case of #IranDeal approval, be concerned about and close paths to possible violation of commitments by the other parties.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) July 15, 2015
- Khamenei’s outspoken opposition to intrusive nuclear inspections likely foreshadows the great difficulties of implementing the nuclear accord.
- Despite being often challenged and outshined by Iran’s presidents, most recently Hassan Rouhani, Khamenei has systematically weakened their authority over time and his views have ultimately prevailed.
- Prospects for U.S.-Iran normalization are low while Khamenei remains in power. At the same time, any engagement policy that aims to ignore or bypass Khamenei is equally unlikely to succeed.
- Khamenei’s power is heavily reliant on the support of the Revolutionary Guards. Dissent or criticism among senior IRGC commanders—up until now unprecedented—would constitute the most serious challenge to his continued rule.
This chapter was originally published in 2010, and is updated as of August 2015.
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