Seyyed Hassan Khomeini lost his appeal of the Guardian Council’s decision to bar him from running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts. A grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he is widely considered the heir apparent of the late revolutionary leader’s legacy. The young Khomeini’s long-anticipated entrance into politics could have important consequences. The 86-member Assembly of Experts, which will increase its membership to 88 this election, is the only constitutional body with the authority to appoint, supervise and dismiss the supreme leader.
The group of clerics has historically served as a rubber stamp
organization that has never seriously questioned the actions of Iran’s previous or current supreme leader. But the stakes are higher for the February 2016 election. The next assembly may be faced with the question of what to do should the 76-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pass away due to illness or old age.
Khomeini registered for the election on Dec. 18, 2015. In January 2016, he missed the written exam intended to test candidates’ knowledge of Islam. Members of his family claimed that he never received an invitation to attend. The Guardian Council announced that all candidates had received a text message invitation, and that missing the exam would not necessarily disqualify a candidate.
On Jan. 26, 2016, the Guardian Council announced that it had finished vetting 801 would-be candidates and that 166 would be allowed to run. The group, however, did not specify who had passed the screening.
Khomeini’s 19-year-old son, Ahmad, reported that his father had been disqualified in an Instagram post
on Jan. 26, 2016. He wrote that the Guardian Council “failed to prove” that his father was qualified. Ahmad added that the group also refused to accept testimonies of tens of top clerics who could vouch for his father’s qualifications. Therefore, the reason for Khomeini’s disqualification is “clear for all,” Ahmad wrote, perhaps implying that the council’s ruling was a political one. Khomeini has connections to influential reformist and centrist political elites. Khomeini later verified his disqualification by reposting
what his son wrote.
On Jan. 29, 2016, Khomeini reportedly announced to a group of students and clerics that he would appeal the Guardian Council's decision. He noted that he was surprised by the Council’s decision, and that he would appeal at the request of members of the public and political leadership. But on February 10, the Guardian Council announced that his appeal was rejected. The council reportedly said that Khomeini "has not enough Islamic knowledge to distinguish the next supreme leader."
Khomeini would likely have been popular with voters. He has spoken out against extremism and supported the nuclear deal, which was broadly welcomed by the Iranian public. At age 43, Khomeini is significantly younger than the mostly elderly members of the Assembly of Experts. The youth vote is increasingly important in Iran, where more than 60 percent of its 80 million people are under 30 years old. Through his 18-year-old son Ahmad’s popular Instagram account, the Iranian public has gained some insight into Khomeini’s family life.
Khomeini is also known for being an avid fan of soccer, Iran’s most popular sport. He played in his youth until he began to focus on his religious studies in his 20s. Khomeini’s deep knowledge of Iran’s league became widely known due to his 2014 appearance
on a state television soccer program. In December 2015, he met
with some of Iran’s top players in his office. “I was good in defense, and if I had continued football I might have achieved something,” he told them, according to Reuters
In addition to Khomeini’s revered pedigree, his family is connected to prominent reformists through marriage. His cousin, Zahra Eshraghi is married to former deputy speaker of parliament Reza Khatami, brother of former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). Khomeini also has the support of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who chairs the Expediency Council. In August 2015, Rafsanjani said
it was Khomeini’s turn to come forward to “protect the revolution.”
Khomeini’s candidacy, however must be approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful unelected institution that vets candidates’ Islamic credentials. The conservative group has previously rejected the candidacy of another Khomeini grandchild, Zahra Eshraghi, for parliament. Even if Khomeini makes the cut and wins a seat on the assembly, it will likely still be dominated by elderly conservatives in the near term.
Born in 1972, Khomeini is a mid-ranking cleric, a hojatoleslam. He spent much of his childhood in the holy city of Qom in Iran. He also visited his grandfather in exile in Iraq and France in the 1970s. Khomeini became a cleric in 1993 and then taught courses on Islam. In 1995, he was appointed as caretaker of Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in Qom, where his father Ahmad is also buried. He heads the Institute for the Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, an organization that preserves the late leader’s original publications and achievements.
Khomeini kept a relatively low profile until 2002, when a university professor was sentenced to death for insulting Islam. Professor Hashem Aghajari argued that each generation should be able to interpret Islam on its own. Khomeini reportedly protested the sentence with about 1,000 students in November 2002.
Khomeini has spoken out against military interference in politics. He also criticized the disqualification of nearly 2,000 candidates from running for parliament in 2008. Most of them were reformists. Khomeini’s comments prompted a harsh reaction from conservatives, who accused him of corruption.
Khomeini reportedly supported reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in 2009. Hassan reportedly went on a trip outside Iran before Ahmadinejad’s August 2009 inauguration ceremony. Conservative publications criticized Khomeini’s move and interpreted his absence as opposition to the election results. Khomeini also met
with political prisoners Alireza Beheshti and Mohammadreza Jalaeipour shortly after their release in 2009, which also suggested sympathies with the reformist camp.
In June 2010, Khomeini spoke at a ceremony marking his grandfather’s death. But his speech was cut short by hardliners chanting “Death to Mousavi!” and shouting slogans in support of Iran’s current supreme leader. The incident may have been the first time a Khomeini family member had been insulted in a public venue.
In a May 2013 letter, Khomeini called former President Rafsanjani’s disqualification from running in the presidential election “unbelievable.”
In August 2015, Khomeini gave a speech to reformists suggesting he would stand for election. “Imam [Khomeini] told my father ‘I am not asking you not to accept responsibilities in the Islamic Republic. If necessary, do whatever is needed and take on responsibilities, but if there are others [who can take control], let them do it,’” he said, according to The Guardian
. Khomeini said that he would therefore play a role in politics if necessary.
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This article partly was based on previous research by Helia Ighani, who was a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Garrett Nada, assistant editor of The Iran Primer. Katayoun Kishi, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, also contributed.