Another Khomeini

An interesting piece discusses the rise of Khomeini’s grandson in Iran.

The piece begins, “The Islamic Revolution, which is now 36 years old, is never forgotten here — but some corners fear that it is fading from public view. Even as President Hassan Rouhani works to reintegrate Iran back into the global community, hard-line elements have stepped up their efforts to weaken his camp of political moderates and portray his government as naive about the threat posed by the United States. Circled by forces such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the judiciary, the president has started to look like a limited, fenced-in figure, incapable of changing too much about how the Islamic Republic operates. Now, however, a new figure with the most famous last name in Iranian politics could become Rouhani’s inside man. Hassan Khomeini, the best-known grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, registered on Dec. 18 as a candidate in next year’s elections for the Assembly of Experts”.

The article goes on to explain that “The 88-member committee is charged with selecting Iran’s next supreme leader when the incumbent, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 76 years old and is said to be ailing, dies. The young Khomeini is the first member of his family to seek public office since the death in 1989 of his feted grandfather, who founded the Islamic Republic and served as its first supreme leader. The only question is whether the 43-year-old will be allowed to embark on a path that could eventually lead to the very top of Iran’s complex power structure”.

The report mentions that “Having studied and taught in Qom, his main job has been running the mausoleum in Tehran where his father and grandfather are interred, considered a hallowed task by many in Iran. He first started stirring notice in political circles in 2008, when he implicitly criticized Iran’s new political and military elite, which has filled its pockets even while preaching loyalty to the revolution’s founder and the Iranian people. The IRGC, established by the first supreme leader to protect Iran from foreign and domestic threats, proved its worth during the Iran-Iraq war — but has since earned the enmity of many Iranians by engaging in widespread cronyism and throwing its weight behind the most hard-line figures in the Islamic Republic”.

Interestingly the piece notes that the young Khomeini criticised the IRGC and met with reformist candidates in 2009, “Keeping such company earned Khomeini some credit among moderates. He also shunned Ahmadinejad’s inauguration ceremony, depriving the event of the legitimacy of his family’s endorsement. Supporters have long wanted Khomeini to enter the public arena. He is markedly younger than the current crop of top Iranian politicians and has already shown something of a youthful, common touch”.

Interestingly the report states that “Hassan Khomeini, meanwhile, already has a powerful array of allies for the forthcoming election. Rouhani and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, are his main public backers; both are members of the Assembly and will seek new eight-year terms — a tenure Khamenei may not outlive. Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s last reformist president, and another figure close to Khomeini, is less likely to be seen in public as the elections approach. Exemplifying the tension at the top of the political system, Khatami’s image is banned by the authorities, after being cast aside and dubbed a “seditionist” by the regime ever since the pro-democracy protests of 2009. However, the former president has shown he still has political influence: It was he who urged Mohammad Reza Aref, a reformist, to withdraw in the 2013 presidential election, which allowed Rouhani to win by consolidating the support of moderate voters”.

The fear of the hardliners in Iran is seen when the article reports that “Iran’s powerful military establishment is also mobilizing against the idea that Khamenei should not be succeeded by one person, but rather by a decision-making body composed of the country’s most senior figures. The idea has been floated by those close to Rafsanjani, a figure staunchly opposed by the military. “If the leadership becomes a council, the country will suffer and our strong unity against America, Zionists, and imperialist enemies will break down,” Hassan Fayrouz Abadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, said on the same day Khomeini became a political candidate. It’s not the first time Khomeini has risked running afoul of the most committed Khamenei loyalists. In a sign of the tension long before he declared he was running, Ansar-e Hezbollah, a radical faction that professes loyalty to the principles of the revolution, threatened him seven months ago from making a public speech”.

Pointedly it notes “Given Khomeini’s lineage, the hard-liners will have an especially hard time painting him as outside the bounds of Iran’s political system. But Khomeini’s last name can offer him only so much protection if he chooses to align himself with reformists — and, hence, against the conservative clerical establishment to which the military is loyal”.

The piece ends “The official campaign season for next year’s elections runs for only two weeks for the Assembly, and one week for the parliament — but the battle for influence has been raging for months. The polls for the Assembly carry more potency than normal, because of renewed speculation about the health of Khamenei. He is 76 years old and underwent prostate surgery in 2014. The supreme leader is viewed as above criticism, but talk of the succession is growing and has received some level of official blessing. Rafsanjani — who, despite being older than Khamenei, is still seen as a potential successor — recently revealed that the Assembly has started to look at potential replacements. While a startling admission in itself, the announcement takes on new relevance because of Khomeini’s entry to politics. Khamenei’s inner circle has been struggling to identify a successor who has the necessary combination of religious training, political influence, and public charisma to lead the country. Unlike most of the names mentioned — Rafsanjani; head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani; and former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi — Khomeini bears the black clerical turban, which denotes his direct lineage to the Prophet Mohammed”.

He concludes “Although Khomeini’s name alone will not get him the job of supreme leader, the situation could quickly change. A few years on the Assembly could burnish his credentials, as well as neutralize the issue of his relative youth. Alternately, if the succession comes quicker than that, he could swing support for a less hard-line candidate. What is not in doubt is that Khomeini has become the man of the moment, enlivening Iran’s politics and bringing the high stakes in Tehran to the fore. Like his grandfather, he could well emerge as a major figure at a critical point in the country’s political history. But first, he has to outmaneuver his powerful hard-line rivals”.


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