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Nepotism & the Larijani Dynasty

20 Aug 2009 16:2424 Comments

Nikahang Kowsar's "Three Musketeers." Roozonline

By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 20 Aug 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Before the 1979 Revolution in Iran, one of the main grievances against the Pahlavi dynasty and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was nepotism. The charge was largely true. The Shah, his family, and a small clique of supporters and puppets -- consisting of a few hundred families -- controlled the vast resources of the state. It was said at that time that Iran was being ruled by "a thousand families."

The Shah, his family, and his clique of supporters treated almost everyone else like second-class citizens. The memoirs of Amir Asadollah Alam, the Shah's confidante and long-time Imperial Court Minister, is very telling in this respect. Though in seven volumes (it's edited by Alam's long time friend, Alinaghi Alikhani), they are very readable. Alam presents a vivid image of the ruling clique, who treated the country like their private property, while squandering away their hours, keeping a close eye on one another to see which members of the Shah's family and their close associates were sleeping with each other, gossiping about who had what, and finding ways to add to their wealth by any means possible.

So, after the 1979 Revolution took down the Shah and most of his cronies, the hope among Iranians was that nepotism would be uprooted in Iran, or at the very least greatly diminished. So long as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, was living, that was more or less the case. The Ayatollah's oldest son, Mostafa, had passed away in 1977, and although his younger son Ahmad was influential, and was a member of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, he never held any executive position.

The Ayatollah himself was very strict about any member of his family or his associates abusing power to enrich themselves. After the Ayatollah passed away, Ahmad was appointed the curator of his father's mausoleum, and was reportedly murdered in 1995 by intelligence agents, after he began criticizing Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

After Ayatollah Khomeini left the scene in 1989, and the right wing gradually took control of all the important organs of the state, nepotism become rampant. In addition to Ayatollah Khamenei's own son, Mojtaba, who is reportedly playing a major behind-the-scenes role in all the important decision making, major clerical figures with close ties to Ayatollah Khamenei began treating, just like the clique around the Shah, Iran's vast resources as their own private property. There have been too many horror stories about corruption by the right-wing ayatollahs and their children. Many, if not all of the stories, are true. Two well-known cases are recounted here.

In one case, Naser Vaez Tabasi, a son of Ayatollah Abbas Vaez Tabasi, who oversees Imam Reza's Shrine in Mashhad, was accused of extensive corruption. This stemmed from his relationship with Almakaseb, a large state-run trading company, which was plundering millions of dollars and taking out very large loans from state-run banks that were not being paid back. After the revelations about his activities came to light, he was briefly jailed. After he supposedly paid back his "debt to the government" though, he was released. He was never convicted. Ayatollah Tabasi is a powerful clerical figure and an old friend of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Another well-known case involves Abbas Palizdar, who was a member of the Inquiry and Review Committee that the 7th Majles (parliament) had formed in order to review the performance of the judiciary. During a speech in June 2008 at Bu-Ali Sina University in Hamadan (in western Iran), Palizdar revealed that the Committee had uncovered 123 cases of corruption, including at least 42 cases involving leading right-wing clerics and officials.

The clerics and high-ranking officials included Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a member of both the Guardian Council (a Constitutional body that vets candidates for most elections) and the Assembly of Experts (a Constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader and monitors his performance); Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, another member of the Guardian Council; Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, former Speaker of the Majles (parliament) and a special adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei; former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; Ali Fallahian, the notorious former Minister of Intelligence; Mohsen Rafighdoust, a former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and many others. All of them shared a common feature: They were considered opponents of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Though Palizdar was an ally of Ahmadinejad, he disowned him after his arrest. It is worth noting that Palizadar received help from Fatemeh Ajorlou, a Majles deputy from Karaj, a town on the western edge of Tehran. She was also arrested, but later released. On Sunday August 16, 2009, Ahmadinejad introduced Ajorlou as one of the three female ministers in his new cabinet.

In early June, while still in jail, Palizdar wrote a letter of apology to Rafsanjani, saying that his findings had not revealed any wrongdoing by him. Right or wrong, Rafsanjani and his family widely symbolize corruption and nepotism in Iran. Ahmadinejad himself has appointed many of his close relatives, including his brother, brother-in-laws, nephew, and close friends to important governmental posts; Ahmadinejad also helped his sister, Parvin, get elected to Tehran's city council.

So, nepotism has made a comeback in Iran with a vengeance. Whereas the children of the elite were called shazdeh, or shahzadeh (a member of the royal family) before the 1979 Revolution, the children of the clerics who are involved in corruption cases and looting of the nation's resources are now referred to as the agha zadeh (son of an elite). Mojtaba Khamenei has such a title.

The Larijani Dynasty

While nepotism is rampant in Iran, no powerful dynasty has emerged over the past 30 years. Ayatollah Khamenei is reportedly grooming his son Mojtaba to succeed him, but it remains to be seen whether that will materialize. Even the position of the Supreme Leader, the backbone of Iran's political system, stands on shaky ground at the very moment. Rafsanjani's family and relatives have been influential, but none has the stature to succeed him. No one in his clan is likely to wield the same level of power and influence. Plus, the IRGC and Ahmadinejad have been verbally assaulting Rafsanjani for quite a while now, trying to remove him from the political scene.

In terms of dynasty, there has been a sole exception, and that is the Larijanis. There are five brothers, two of whom sit at the very top of two of the three branches of government. Ali Larijani is the Speaker of the Majles, while Sadegh Larijani is the new chief of the judiciary. A third brother, Mohammad Javad (Ardeshir) has been an important conservative ideologue who was deputy for international affairs to Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Sadegh Larijani's predecessor. A fourth brother, Dr. Mohammad Bagher Larijani, is the head of Tehran University of Medical Sciences, and a one time deputy health minister. Until two years ago, the fifth brother, Fazel Larijani, was Iran's cultural attache to Canada.

Add to this list a first maternal cousin, Ahmad Tavakkoli, whose mother and the Larijanis' are sisters, and a maternal uncle, Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli, a powerful conservative cleric, and one has all the makings of a true dynasty. Tavakkoli is an influential right-wing Majles deputy and head of its research center. Tavakkoli is also a two-time presidential candidate, and was Minister of Labor in the administration of Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s.

A most interesting aspect of the rise of the Larijanis to prominence is that none played any role in the 1979 Revolution, or even in the first several years after the Revolution. In fact, the Larijanis' father, Grand Ayatollah Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli, as well as their maternal grandfather, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohsen Ashrafi, who lived in Behshahr, in the province of Mazandaran, in northern Iran, belonged to a school of Islamic thinking that had little, if any, interest in politics.

Only Tavakkoli was a junior member of the right wing of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin organization, which is now one of the two most important reformist groups. He was included in the Mousavi government only as a concession to the right wingers in the Majles who were pressuring Mousavi most of the time.

The rise of the Larijanis has been helped by two developments. They married the daughters of very important clerics, and Ali Larijani forged a very close relationship with Ayatollah Khamenei when he was serving in the IRGC. First, Khamenei was the deputy Defense Minister, then the (clerical) supervisor of the IRGC, and finally the president in the 1980s, when he frequently went to the war front during the Iran-Iraq war. Ali Larijani has remained a confidante of Ayatollah Khamenei ever since.

The Larijanis have a sister who is married to Ayatollah Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, a progressive cleric. He has recently been highly critical of Ahmadinejad.

This article profiles the three most visible Larijanis.

Ali Larijani


Ali Larijani was born in Najaf, Iraq in 1958. His parents had moved to Najaf in 1931 due to the persecution of the clerics by Reza Shah. Najaf was (and still is) one of the two important centers of Shia activism (the other is Qom, Iran). Ali Larijani was 3 years old when his father moved his family back to Iran after living in Iraq for 30 years. He received a B.Sc. degree in mathematics and computer science from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. He married a daughter of Ayatollah Sayyed Morteza Motahhari, the distinguished Islamic thinker and a disciple of Ayatollah Khomeini who played an important role in the 1979 Revolution. (Ayatollah Motahhari was assassinated on May 1, 1979.)

Instead of pursuing his graduate education in mathematics and engineering, Ali Larijani decided to study western philosophy. Thus, he received a M.S. degree, and later a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Tehran. A few days ago, Raja News, a hard-line website closely associated with Ahmadinejad, cast doubts on how Larijani received his Ph.D., claiming that his thesis had been rejected by the faculty, and that he had used the staff of the Majles research center to do his work for him.

Larijani joined the IRGC and rose from being a deputy to the overall commander. He also worked at the IRGC's research center, trying to develop a modern theoretical foundation for the doctrine of Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist), the backbone of Iran's political structure. There, he worked with Ezzatollah Zarghami, another right-wing IRGC officer.

In 1992, Mohammad Khatami resigned as the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance after his relatively progressive views on literature, the arts and the press were harshly attacked by the conservatives. Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani appointed Larijani as Khatami's successor. Larijani served for two years, during which time he tightened censorship on all cultural aspects of life. During his tenure there were even attempts to delete portions of the classical literary works by Iranian masters, or replace them with alternative words and phrases, on the grounds that they were objectionable.

In 1994, Ayatollah Khamenei removed Mohammad Hashemi (Rafsanjani's younger brother) from the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), or the "Voice and Visage" of the Islamic Republic, as it is known in Persian. He appointed Larijani as the new head of the IRIB, who took Zarghami with him and appointed him as his chief deputy.

While at IRIB, Larijani did not disappoint the conservatives. By vastly expanding the national network of radio and television and using it as the main propaganda tool, Larijani helped consolidate the take over of the important organs of the state by the conservatives and ultra-conservatives. There was a television program broadcast by the IRIB called Hoviyyat (identity), in which practically every single progressive intellectual, political dissident and other critics of the Islamic Republic were harshly attacked. The program and the supporting articles published by the daily Kayhan, the mouthpiece of the security and intelligence apparatus, were often the basis for prosecuting and jailing the opponents of the political establishment.

Larijani began another program that was similar, Cheragh (light), which was also a vehicle for attacking the reformists and democratic groups. He also started and then greatly expanded the daily Jaam-e Jam, and used it to attack the reformists, and to promote himself and his brothers in the process.

When Mohammad Khatami was running for president in the spring of 1997, Larijani authorized the production of Asr-e Ashura (afternoon of Ashura), a short movie that supposedly showed Khatami supporters dancing and singing in the afternoon of Ashura, a sacred day to Shias. The film was supposed to show that those who supported Khatami were against Islam and religion. Ashura is the day in which Imam Hossein -- the Shiites' 3rd Imam, grandson of the Prophet, and a most revered figure in Iran -- was murdered on October 10, 680 A.D. Every year in Iran, he is greatly mourned on this day. (The scenes in the movie were faked, though.)

In the fall of 1998, six political dissidents and literary figures, Dariush Forouhar and his wife Parvaneh, Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, Dr. Majid Sharif, and Pirouz Davani, were murdered (Davani's body has never been recovered). On January 4, 1999, the Ministry of Intelligence issued a statement in which it admitted that its own agents, led by Saeed Emami, a notorious deputy Minister, and 14 other agents, were the culprits behind the murders. Emami is believed to have murdered up to 80 dissidents from 1988-1998. The government claimed that he committed suicide in jail, but it is widely believed that he was murdered.

Almost immediately after the statement was made by the Ministry of Intelligence, Larijani brought Ruhollah Hosseinian, a notorious mid-rank cleric and close friend of Emami, to the Cheragh program on television to accuse the reformists of being the masterminds of the murders. Hosseinian claimed that Mostafa Kazemi, a leading figure among the murderers, was actually a reformist! The claim created an uproar and Khatami banned Larijani from participating in his cabinet's meetings.

Two months after the reformists swept up a majority of the seats in the elections for the 6th Majles in late February 2000, a conference was held in Berlin on the future of the reform movement in Iran. The April conference, which was attended by several supporters of the reformist movement from Iran, was interrupted when extreme leftists denounced the Iranian reformists and attacked Islam. In the middle of the conference, a nude man and woman began dancing. This was all taped, and later broadcast on television in Iran, even the nude scenes. Larijani strongly defended the broadcast. It has been speculated, with some credible evidence to support it, that Iranian intelligence agents opposed to the reformists had helped orchestrate the disturbance.

The broadcast was then used as the basis for arresting ten reformists on their return to Iran. Among them, Akbar Ganji, the investigative journalist, who was initially given a ten-year sentence (eventually reduced to six years). Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari, a progressive cleric close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, was given a seven-year jail sentence, of which he served four. He was also de-frocked by the Special Court for the Clergy, a court used for controlling dissident clerics. Ali Afshari, a student activist, was given five years. While in jail, he was tortured to "confess," which he retracted after he was released in 2002 (he now lives in the United States). Others were also given jail sentences and fined.

The 6th Majles, controlled by the reformists, investigated the financial dealings of the IRIB under Larijani and his deputy for finance, Ali Kordan. It discovered irregularities and embezzlement totaling 550 billion tomans (about USD $670 million). When the results of the investigation were read aloud in a session of the Majles, it created a huge uproar. Larijani's only reaction was, "Inhaa hameh kashk-eh" -- these are all baseless -- using the slang kashk for baseless. Though illegal for it not to act, the judiciary never took any action against Larijani or Kordan.

Larijani finally left the IRIB in 2004, leaving behind a "distinguished" legacy of attacking the reformists and leveling accusations that helped put them on trial. His work was so one-sided that the reformists began referring mockingly to the IRIB as mayli (whimsy), instead of melli (national). Zarghami, his chief deputy, succeeded him. Ayatollah Khamenei then appointed Larijani as his special adviser.

In 2005, Larijani announced his candidacy for president and began writing a daily column for Jaam-e Jam to familiarize the electorate with his thinking. He also taught philosophy at Tehran University. He was the main candidate of the traditional conservatives, who had put together a coalition called the Coordination Council for the Revolution's Forces, which did not include supporters of Ahmadinejad. But, he did poorly in the election. Except in Mazandaran, his ancestral province, he did not receive a significant portion of the vote.

After Ahmadinjad was elected president, he appointed Larijani as secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. During his presidential campaign, Larijani had criticized Khatami for his nuclear policy, claiming that Khatami "had given away [to the European Union] the pearls [because Khatami had agreed to temporarily suspend Iran's uranium enrichment program], but received worthless candies."

Though his slogan was "we support dialogue with dignity," Larijani pursued a hard-line in negotiations with the European Union. He served in those positions until October 2007. During his tenure though, Iran's nuclear dossier was sent to the United Nations Security Council, and the Council began issuing Resolutions against Iran and imposing sanctions. So, the net result of Larijani's work was not even "worthless candies," but the poison of sanctions!

When in March 2007, Iran captured 15 British sailors in Iran's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, and accused them of spying on Iran, tensions increased dramatically between Iran and Britain. Later, however, Ahmadinejad ordered their release and staged a "ceremony" to see them off. It is believed that Larijani played an important role in the release of the British sailors.

Larijani abruptly resigned from his positions in October 2007. Many believe he was actually pushed out by Ahmadinejad. The two never got on well. But, the reason for the abrupt resignation had apparently something to do with a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei two days earlier. Putin had proposed new ways of addressing the standoff between Iran and the West with respect to Iran's nuclear program. Included in the Russian proposal was a short-term temporary suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program. Larijani, who was present in the meeting, told Putin, and later publicly in a news conference, that Iran would take his ideas into consideration. But, just hours later, Ahmadinejad rejected the proposal -- in fact, he even denied that there had been a proposal, contradicting Larijani all together. When asked why he had resigned, Larijani responded, "There were ideological differences between us."

Larijani next ran in the elections for the 8th Majles, this time as a candidate from the city of Qom, instead of Tehran. He was supposedly backed by all the important clerics residing in Qom. Tellingly, however, was the fact that the Guardian Council, which vets the candidates, disqualified every candidate from Qom but Larijani! Whether his brother Sadegh Larijani, who was a member of the Council at that time, had anything to do with this was the subject of intense speculation. Larijani was elected, and in May 2008 was also elected the Speaker, a position that he has since retained, even after his year was up in May 2009.

Larijani is despised by Ahmadinejad's hard-core supporters in the Majles, where they total about 70 deputies. They have been trying to get him sacked from the Speaker job, but have not succeeded. Larijani did not support Ahmadinejad in the rigged presidential election of June 12. Raja News, the hard-line website close to Ahmadinejad, claimed last week that in the afternoon of the election, Larijani, "who had access to classified information," had phoned Mousavi to congratulate him for getting elected president. (This, by the way, is just one more strong indication about who likely got a majority of the votes. In their haste to attack Larijani, it was leaked as a result of a gaffe by the hardliners.)

Larijani also criticized the Guardian Council, saying that several of its members had openly [and unlawfully] supported Ahmadinejad. He also said that in the view of a very large number of voters there was fraud in the election, and that their views cannot simply be ignored. However, he also attacked Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist leader, and rejected his revelation that many of the people arrested after the election had been raped in jail.

Mohammad Javad (Ardeshir ) Larijani

javad larijani

Mohammad Javad Larijani was born in 1950 in Najaf, Iraq. He was 11 when he and his family moved back to Iran in 1961. After graduating from high school, he first studied theology. But he quit the seminaries and began studying electrical engineering at Aryamehr University (now called Sharif University) in Tehran in 1968. He obtained his B.Sc. degree in 1972. During the entire time that he was attending Aryamehr University, he wore the standard clothes clerics. Afterward, he moved to the United States, changed his studies to mathematics and obtained an M.S. degree.

He began his studies for a Ph.D. degree in mathematics at the University of California in Berkeley, under the direction of Professor Robert Vaught. But due to the 1979 Revolution, he returned to Iran without completing his dissertation. To the best of my knowledge, he never finished his studies, although he is routinely called "Dr. Larijani." While at Berkeley, he never took part in the anti-Shah activities of the Iranian students in the United States.

In the first few years after the 1979 Revolution, there was not much talk of any of the Larijanis. But then Mohammad Javad Larijani joined the foreign ministry when Ali Akbar Velayati was the Foreign Minister. Larijani rose to become one of Velayati's deputies there. In that period, with the goal of gaining a better understanding of world politics, Larijani founded the Office for Political Studies in the foreign ministry.

At that time, he often sounded like a relatively moderate diplomat. For example, he once said, before the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, that Iran had made too many enemies. He also expressed regrets for the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, by the Islamic leftist students.

Larijani founded the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (IPM) in 1989. The Institute, which was recently renamed Institute for Research in Fundamental Science, has become a center of high quality research on mathematics and physics -- both abstract and applied -- and nano-science. The Institute has an international reputation in the area of string theory, a branch of physics that tries to unify all forces in nature. While there has been some speculation that the Institute is also involved in Iran's nuclear program, the author, who has visited the Institute a few times, is not aware of any research activities that could even indirectly aid Iran's nuclear program.

After founding the Institute and leaving the foreign ministry, the elder Larijani became the ideologue of the traditional conservatives in Iran. He has a sharp mind, speaks bluntly, and has opposed the reformists for a long time. In a recent interview after the rigged presidential election, Larijani said, "Reform movement has died in Iran."

On another occasion, when Shirin Ebadi was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Larijani said, sarcastically, "I am happy that a compatriot of mine has become very rich," referring to the monetary award that Ebadi received. He did not mention her human rights work for which she received the award.

Larijani was also elected to the 4th (1992-1996) and 5th Majles (1996-2000). In the 4th Majles, he was vice-chairman of the Majles foreign affairs Committee, and he was the Chair of the Majles research center in its 5th session. Shortly before Khomeini's death in 1989, the Ayatollah had issued a fatwa condemning Salman Rushdie to death for his book, Satanic Verses. In a trip abroad, Larijani told the press, when asked about the fatwa, that it was a personal view. He also questioned the legal validity of the bounty placed on Rushdie's head, which had been set in Iran.

Such a position regarding Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa belies the political realism of the Larijanis, as well as the Islamic philosophy of their family, particularly that of their father Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli, and uncle, Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli. The two Ayatollahs believed that a fatwa issued by one ayatollah was not necessarily accepted by all the other ayatollahs who are marja' taghlid (sources of emulation).

In 1997, there was fierce competition between Mohammad Khatami and the conservative Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, who at that time was the Speaker of the Majles, for Iran's presidency. Larijani traveled to London in February 1997 as a member of the Majles foreign affairs committee. He met in London with Nick Brown, Director General for Middle East Affairs, in the British Foreign Office and, according to several sources, asked Brown for an explicit endorsement of Nategh Nouri. That unleashed a storm of protests, forcing Nategh Nouri to announce that he has no spokesman. Nategh Nouri badly lost that election to Khatami, and three years later, in late February 2000, the reformists rode to victory in the elections for the 6th Majles. Larijani has not been back to the Majles since.

In December 2002, Larijani was appointed by Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, then judiciary chief, as his deputy for international affairs. In that capacity Larijani supported negotiations with the United States and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. He expressed regrets for the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, by the Islamic leftist students, saying, "Attacks and protests by students against an embassy are natural acts across the world. But, when the government joined them, the incidents that followed were hasty decisions that harmed our interests."

He also said, "We should be realistic and see the disadvantages [of the hostage crisis that led to the break in relations]." In one press conference in December 2004, he said that, "Iran had a good opportunity to positively respond to this move by the United States, because the U.S. wanted to establish ties with Iran." He was referring to the secret 1986 trip to Tehran by President Reagan's National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane (that led to the Iran-Contra scandal).

On the question of Iran's nuclear program, Larijani has said that, "We oppose the West's efforts to gain a monopoly in nuclear fuel, and in nuclear industry and science. I believe that the Iranian success [in enriching uranium] is a great success for the Islamic world." He even suggested nuclear cooperation between Iran and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf because, "Under the present circumstances, no Western country will be willing to share uranium enrichment technology with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others."

More recently, Larijani was in charge of the human rights division of the judiciary. He has always said that there are two aspects to the human rights issue in Iran: violation of human rights in Iran, and Western propaganda against Iran regarding the violations. Of course, he said these before the vast scale of human rights violations in Iran following the June election, which included torture, rape, killings, and a range of inhumane treatment of detainees, to name a few. Most recently, on July 26, he said that he was opposed to broadcasting the "confessions" by the reformist leaders. "I think it is the duty of the judiciary officials to explain to the people the issues and violations of election laws by the reformists," he said.

But Larijani has also tried to justify the beatings (and murder) of the people during the recent demonstrations by saying that, "the police must stop the rioters [the demonstrators]. It has not been carved on people's foreheads who is a [legitimate] demonstrator and who is a rioter."

Mohammad Javad Larijani is married, but little is known about his private life.

Sadegh Larijani


Sadeq Larijani, Iran's fifth judiciary chief after the 1979 Revolution and the youngest brother, was born in 1960 in Najaf, Iraq. His father Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli moved his family back to Iran in 1961, when Sadegh was one. Similar to his older brothers, Sadegh was interested in modern sciences. In fact, he received a scholarship from Sharif University of Technology to study abroad, but decided against it, and joined a seminary in Qom. His theological teachers included Ayatollah Kazem Haeri, his uncle Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli, Ayatollah Hasan Hasanzade Amoli, and his own father.

Another teacher of his was Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani. Sadegh Larijani married the Ayatollah's daughter. There is an interesting twist to this. His father-in-law is known to oppose Ayatollah Khamenei. When the right-wing clergy tried to promote Ayatollah Khamenei as a marja' taghlid (source of emulation) in the 1990s, Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani is known to have told him, "You be the sultan [king], but leave marjaeiyat [being source of emulation] to others." Whenever Ayatollah Khamenei visits Qom, Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani leaves town, just so that he would not have to meet with him.

Sadegh Larijani first made a name for himself in 1988 when he published articles criticizing and responding to Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush's theory and thinking, The evolution of religious knowledge. Dr. Soroush is a distinguished Islamic scholar, philosopher, and reformist with a very large number of followers. He published his views in such conservative publications as Kayhan Farhangi (Cultural Kayhan), Naghd va Nazar (view and critique), and the monthly Sobh (dawn). Larijani is the license holder and managing editor of a philosophical periodical called Pazhouhesh-haaye Osouli (Principled Research). He speaks Arabic and English fluently.

His political views are somewhat similar to those of Ayatollah Khamenei. Like him, Sadegh Larijani believes in a "cultural invasion" by the Western power, which "is no less than its military invasion." Larijani says because of that, he has dedicated his life to countering the Western cultural invasion. "They [the Western powers] know well that the Islamic nations have lasted due to the faith of their people [in Islam], not material[ism], products, and militarism."

But even though Sadeq Larijani is a conservative clergy, politician and thinker, he is not so far to the right to be associated with the ultra-right and reactionary clerics such as Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Ayatollah Yazdi, or Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary-general of the Guardian Council, all of whom are staunch supporters of Ahmadinejad.

In 1980, at the age of 21, Sadegh Larijani was appointed a lecturer in religion for the commanders of the IRGC. He has been teaching at a Qom seminary, Qom teachers' training college, and Mashhad Razavi University. The classes that he has taught include Kalam (interpretation of religious texts), modern rhetoric, comparative philosophy, philosophy of ethics, and Western philosophy.

In 1998, he was elected to the 3rd Assembly of Experts (he is still a member), representing Mazandaran province. In 2001 Ayatollah Khamenei appointed him to the Guardian Council. After his appointment as the judiciary chief on August 16, his seat in the Council was filled by his predecessor in the judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi.

A novel concept advanced by Sadegh Larijani has been the notion of middle Ejtehad (intermediate Ejtehad). According to this idea one does not need to have complete knowledge in all aspects of theology. One does not even have to be specialized in

just one particular field of theology in order to be able to issue new fatwas on certain matters. This is, of course, not the traditional thinking among the Shiite clergy.

Larijani's conservative views about the nature of the Islamic nations, as well as his politics, have been criticized by the progressive Muslims and the reformists in Iran. He once said, "The efficiency of [Islamic] governments relies on people's votes, but the votes do not bestow legitimacy upon the government." This is in line with the views of the more reactionary clerics such as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. He has also argued that, "The Islamic societies are not based on the laws made by men, rather based on the general principles set out in the Quran."

Regarding how an Islamic society is supposed to be, Larijani has stated,

We support a society that is based on the spirit of Islam and religious faith, in which Islamic and religious values are propagated, and every Quranic injunction and the teachings of the Prophet [Muhammad] and the [Shia] Imams are implemented. It is a society in which the feeling of servitude to God Almighty will be manifested everywhere, and in which people will not demand their rights from God, but are conscious of their obligations to God.

But Larijani also appears to recognize the conditions of modern society in which people demand freedom, and despise the government's imposition of certain beliefs. He has stated that,

The role of the government is to allow individuals to enjoy the greatest freedom, so that they can pursue their rights and interests in the way that they see fit. The role of the government is not to impose its own values, goals and principles upon its citizens, and it should in no way interfere in such issues. The role of the government is to provide a suitable environment that will allow individuals to make their own choices in society.

The first reports on Sadegh Larijani as the new judiciary chief have been mixed. His deputy will be Mohammad Jahromi, currently the Minister of Labor. The Prosecutor General (sometimes called the Chief Justice), Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi, will be replaced by the hardliner Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehei, who was until three weeks ago the Intelligence Minister. He was fired by Ahmadinejad.

The good news however is that Larijani has ordered a halt on executions, including the execution of those who were minors when they committed their crime. When Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi was appointed the judiciary chief in 1999, he declared that he had inherited "a ruined judiciary." At the end of his ten-year term, Iran's judiciary has not just crumbled, but has become an organ with no control over the killing field at Kahrizak detention center (on southern edge of Tehran), jails in which young people have been raped, and secret detention centers that most people do not even know where they are.

Can Sadegh Larijani correct this horrible situation, and actually practice his belief in people's freedom as the judiciary chief, or will he prove to be just another Larijani, who in pursuit of his personal ambitions, will be willing to bend backward, take orders, and forget about his own independent thinking to please his masters?

In his interesting 2002 book, Pedar Khandeh va Chap haaye Javan [The Godfather and the Young Leftists], Mohammad Ghouchani, the young reformist journalist who is currently in jail, refers to the Larijanis as "one of the dynasties of power." [It is Rafsanjani who is sometimes referred to as the Godfather.] The question for the Larijanis is this: Do they crave power for the sake of power for themselves, or do they want to leave a positive legacy for themselves and the Islamic Republic? Do the Larijanis want to be remembered like the Kennedy brothers or the Corleone family?

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau


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Mr. Sahimi, thank you for another article. I am always anxiously waiting for your next one to be posted here and I am rarely diappointed. I have learned a lot from your articles particularly about the history of Iran few years prior to the revolution and after the revolution. Do you ever have speaking engagements especially in the east coast?


Minoo / August 20, 2009 1:38 PM

I'm just quoting the pop group, "Tear for Fears" which I find quite relevant here:


Or perhaps I should quote "Faith No More":


The Larijanis demonstrate a zeal for power, albeit at the cost of distancing themselves from the people of Iran and their goals!

But the people shall prevail. No doubt about it.

davood / August 20, 2009 3:06 PM

I feel so overwhelmed and angry after I read about the evilness of this regime. I can't even digest it all: the level of corruption and brutality so high, the money stolen from the people of Iran in the last 30 years in such large amounts, lies after lies after lies, imprisonment of so many opponents while the real criminals are part of the elite, and so on and so forth.

Who are these people? They are not humans. The more conservative and supposedly religious, the more evil and disgusting. They are million times worse than the mafia and the unbelievable part is that they still call themselves devout muslims while the whole world knows there is not an ounce of humanity in them.

All Iranians should do whatever they can, like attending a demonstration even one time in any country outside of Iran to protest this regime. All of them must be brought to justice including the dynasty of the Larijanis.

Minoo / August 20, 2009 11:53 PM

Being an Iranian-American, this sort of thing is unmoving. For in America, we have our Kennedy's, Bush's, Clintons, Doles...

Pirouz / August 21, 2009 4:00 AM

Thanks for the interesting profiles. By the way, i think Ardeshir is actually the middle name of Ali Larijani, not Mohammad Javad...

benedict / August 21, 2009 5:13 AM

Iran does not only have the megalomaniac Larijani Brothers but Mojtaba Khamenei as well who wants to reign in Iran. There are just too many of them who wants to get a piece if not the whole cake. They have no "delicadeza" at all. I call them the "POWER HUFFS OF IRAN."

shetty / August 21, 2009 8:19 AM

Thank you Prof. for this another brilliant analysis. It has now been a habit for me to await for your next article.

shetty / August 21, 2009 8:37 AM

Thank you for your article, it was interesting. However, it would have been more completed if you would have cited from Ali Larijani's interesting critique of Qoochani's thesis that appeared as a post-script of the same book. Also, mention should be made of Javad Larijani's repeated and strong support of Ahmadinejad before the June 12 elections, that distances him somewhat from the stance of Ali...

Well Wisher / August 21, 2009 11:01 AM

Dr. Sahimi, I specially liked your political cartoon, because I have two brothers (although I think we don't do [....] as much as the Larijanies when we go somewhere).

Very timely article .....

anonym7 / August 21, 2009 1:26 PM

"The more conservative and supposedly religious, the more evil and disgusting."

What do you expect? That is the general rule in all times and places. One of the main functions of the religion industry is to cover up bad behavior.

Don Cox / August 21, 2009 1:37 PM

I should add, that is an excellent and thorough article.

Don Cox / August 21, 2009 1:38 PM

Don Cox, I completely agree. You said it better than me. However, I have come across religious people inside and outside of Iran that are spiritual and are honest and good people but they are definitely in minority.

Minoo / August 21, 2009 4:29 PM

You always have to be suspicious of people who tell you how to think and dispense morality as if they have some higher authority.

Maziar / August 21, 2009 6:40 PM

Please, Though you have cited historical information full of disgracefull and sham words and tried to discridit Larjanis and their devoteness to their country and the Islamic sytem, you missed one point... That Jewish power in America whereby little known figures control the vast resources, parties, think thanks, Media organisations and accedemy..

whereby hundred if not thousands of atoricities of mischeaf they have done to the ameircan Intrests..

please Join the free world of larjani.. free from Zionists..

abdikadir / August 23, 2009 4:14 AM

Dear Abdikadir:

Your point about the influence of the Israel lobby in the U.S. is well taken.

But, which word, phrase, or paragraph was sham, disgraceful, or incorrect? I provided a truthful and historically accurate profile of the three brothers, without resorting to disrespect? Tell me exactly what part of the article do you dispute?

Muhammad Sahimi / August 23, 2009 10:15 PM

well taken! Not satisfactory.. Document it..

The Larjanis rise is natural, you seem to have taking sides continously

You didnt find my point.. what i meant it was in the context of citing Larjanis, you have put so many things ( mixed narative though ), but you have also portrayed it as " Solan's Nuclear Packages " and the few positive things about Larjanis were intended to SUGAR COAT THE SINSTER INTENTIONS of the whole Article..

I personally dont buy it.. The Larjanis rise is natural, Qand pretty to say instead of discrediting him, you have taken part to increase his popularity.

The Larjanis rise is natural, you seem to have taking sides continously.. while hopefully, you are not with the reformists.

I personally dont buy it.. and pretty to say instead of discrediting him, you have taken part to increase his popularity.

context of though Who is better the Larjanis and (Denis Ross, David Aron Miller and Martin. Indyk) Iranians are not Iraq's ..

You have said

abdikadir / August 24, 2009 8:11 AM

The Larjanis rise is natural, you seem to have taking sides continously WITHIN YOUR ARTICLE.

You didnt find my point.. what i meant it was in the context of citing Larjanis, you have put so many things ( mixed narative though ), but you have also portrayed it as " Solan's Nuclear Packages " and the few positive things about Larjanis were intended to SUGAR COAT THE SINSTER INTENTIONS of the whole Article..

I personally dont buy it.. The Larjanis rise is natural, Qand pretty to say instead of discrediting him, you have taken part to increase his popularity.

The Larjanis rise is natural, you seem to have taking sides continously.. while hopefully, you are not with the reformists.

I personally dont buy it.. and pretty to say instead of discrediting him, you have taken part to increase his popularity.

abdikadir / August 24, 2009 8:13 AM

What I find interesting about the Iranian situation is how easily people resort to generalised stereotypes. A few bad apples do not make the whole batch bad. In Britain we have the Miliband brothers both ministers and some husband & wife MPs. Some judges, clergy, influential politicians are freemasons & suspicion is there that decisions are made outside the public limelight. Unfortuately the abuse of power seems a feature of all political systems, secular and religious, the important thing is that there are individuals like yourself amongst all classes of people who raise awareness & seek change as peacefully as possible. I still think Iran is better as an Islamic Republic & that whilst reform is needed it would not necessarily change the situation for better if it was to become totally secular. At present you have the advantage that there is a call from the religious classes themselves for reform and in Karroubi, I believe you have a good advocate.

rezvan / August 24, 2009 8:24 AM


Hundreds/thousand atrocities committed by AIPAC (America Israel Pubic Affairs Committee) and similar groups is for the most part an abstract concept for Iranians, specially the ones who live inside the country, because Iran is not occupied by Israelis! However the impact of corruption/crimes committed by these dynasties on Iranians is very real and they feel it....., they feel it and they understandably develop hatred and resentment for the system and even its ideology.

anonym7 / August 24, 2009 3:23 PM

" still think Iran is better as an Islamic Republic & that whilst reform is needed it would not necessarily change the situation for better if it was to become totally secular."

In what ways do you think Iran is better off with an islamic republic than a secular one? Please spell out your reasoning.

Also, am I the only one who couldn't understand a word Abdikadir typed?

Maziar / August 24, 2009 3:45 PM

Maziar, I did not understand a word Abdikabir typed in his response to Mr. Sahimi either.

Also, I would like to point out the obvious. Just because other countries such as Israel have committed atrocities and continue to act criminally towards the Palestinians or Britain has its own corrupt brothers, and any other evil acts that happen in the world (and there is plenty of it as we all know) it does not justify the actions of Larijanis or any other corrupt and brutal character in this horrible regime who silenced anyone against them. Larijanis, Ahmadinejad, IRGC, etc., etc. are all the bad the apples in the batch. They are rotten apples to the core. I don't even know what to say to "Iran is better off as an Islamic Republic....."!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Medieval tortures, rapes of boys and girls, secret dentions, detainess and protesters killed and secretly buried, large sums of money taken in exchange for returning dead bodies of loved ones and the list goes on and on not only after June 12 but also before that date since the onset of the 1979 revolution. It is sickening.

Minoo / August 24, 2009 10:20 PM

"Also, I would like to point out the obvious. Just because other countries such as Israel have committed atrocities and continue to act criminally towards the Palestinians or Britain has its own corrupt brothers, and any other evil acts that happen in the world (and there is plenty of it as we all know) it does not justify the actions of Larijanis or any other corrupt and brutal character in this horrible regime who silenced anyone against them."

This is a lesson in logic to all the readers here. Just because someone else did it, doesn't excuse the islamic dictatorship.

Maziar / August 25, 2009 5:12 PM

Thanks rezvan ,

You have said what i would have said (I still think Iran is better as an Islamic Republic & that whilst reform is needed it would not necessarily change the situation for better if it was to become totally secular)..

Great!!! rezvan this is exactly similar to what the british people were saying when tony blair (zionist) was compainging Iraq invasion at the hight of 2003 persumably to discover the " Weopons of Mass destruction" and Sharon said days after to Rusian President " Nothing except to dismanle his regime will do and the time when WMD could have anything has expired".. and finally we have seen what we have seen.. ( Democratic iraq.. reflected in Abu-Gurib Prisons free and fair elections)

so you see this is quite similar..

abdikadir / August 26, 2009 6:43 AM

"(I still think Iran is better as an Islamic Republic & that whilst reform is needed it would not necessarily change the situation for better if it was to become totally secular)"

Yes, reform is needed.

The reform is the removal of religion from politics.

The reform is the the removal of velayate-faghih from commander in chief and dismantling the position.

The reform is the removal of a religious army (Sepah/IRGC) and a religious paramilitary force that does what it wants (basij and ansareh hezbollah).

The reform is the removal of the Guardian Council and Assembly of 'Experts' who vet the candidates running for president, parliament, etc.

The reform is the removal of the victim mentality and sense of paranoia that grips the government.

The reform is allowing newspapers and media to report news, not government propoganda.

The reform needed is to allow Iranians to live free from religious persecution, propoganda, oppression, economic mishandling, geo-political isolation, and every other plight the islamic dictatorship has brought upon them.

So I agree with you that reform is needed.

Maziar / August 27, 2009 12:04 PM