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Can the Khomeinis challenge Khamenei?


04 Jan 2010 17:4817 Comments
30_k049.JPG[ opinion ] The Tehran-based Parsine news Web site recently reported about the possible move of the Khomeini family to the holy city of Najaf in Iraq.

According to the report, the Khomeini family has been troubled by the hardliners' attack during former president Mohammad Khatami's Ashura sermon.

There are two reasons why this was particularly painful for Ayatollah Khomeini's family. First and foremost, Khatami is related to the Khomeini family. His brother is married to Zahra Eshraghi, one of Khomeini's grand daughters.

The other is that the attack took place in Ayatollah Khomeini's former neighborhood of Jamaraan, in northern Tehran. The fact that the attackers did not respect the sanctity of the place was doubly painful for the Khomeini family.

Even if the move to Najaf does not materialize, one can not ignore the recent assaults against the family of the former Supreme Leader of Iran. There were already reports that the offices of Hojatoleslam Val Moslemin Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the former Supreme Leader's grandson, were attacked and its windows smashed after the Ashura demonstrations by the opposition.

Attacking the offices of Khomeini's grandson in Iran would be similar to pro Fidel Castro militia attacking the property of Che Guevara's family in Cuba. Not only would it be highly disrespectful, it would also show a clear split in the identity of the revolution, where those who associate themselves with the founder of the Islamic Republic are no longer seen as allies. It can also be taken as a sign that the original views of the revolution are now frowned upon.

And they are right. When it comes to the role of the military in politics, Khamenei's view of the revolution is different from that of Khomeini. The Islamic revolution's founder tried to keep the military away from politics and not to give them too much of a say.

Khamenei, on the other hand, believes and encourages the opposite. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is now present more than ever in politics. This is witnessed by the fact that so many of the members of Ahmadinejad's cabinet are former members of this force, or its people militia branch, known as the Basij. There is also the recent slow takeover of the Iranian economy by the IRGC.

The question is: can the Khomeini family pose a real challenge to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad?

The answer here goes back to the all-important issue of Khamenei's succession.

The fact remains that no one has a clear idea as to who will replace Khamenei. During Khomeini's term, his succession was decided in 1985, four years before he actually died. Even if the issue had not been decided, if you had asked any Iran observer about possible replacements, they could mention with some degree of certainty that it would be either Montazeri, Khamenei or Rafsanjani.

However, these days, the answer is much less clear. First and foremost the Assembly of Experts whose job is to select the next Supreme Leader has still not voted on this important issue. Secondly, today, in comparison to Khomeini's time, the possible choices are far less obvious. Some experts believe that Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, could be the successor. Others say Ayatollah Shahroudi. However the degree of confidence felt about predicting such an important question is far less than at Khomeini's time.

The fact that Khamenei has not allowed the Assembly of Experts to choose his successor could be because he is sure about his health and the fact that he is going to be in charge for a number of years to come.

However one cannot rule out the possibility that merely addressing this question could lead to more infighting within the regime. With domestic instability and opposition against him at its highest, the last thing he needs is more infighting at the top political echelons.

Or, it is possible that Khamenei has made his choice, and it is the Revolutionary Guards itself.

Although this may sound controversial, it is still a logical choice. Since the 1979 revolution, no Supreme Leader has ever been against the political interests of the clergy in Qom the way Khamenei has. So why give the reins to the people whose power he has tried to trim?

Also, allowing the IRGC to take over would protect the interests of his family more than allowing the clergy to continue to fill the role of Supreme Leader. His son Mojtaba is far closer to the IRGC than the clergy in Qom. Such protection will mean that once he dies, Khamenei's family won't suffer the same fate as the Khomeinis.

Should the Khomeini family move to Najaf, it would be a severe embarrassment for Khamenei and his regime. However it's unlikely to change his succession plans.

When the future of the Khamenei dynasty is so intricately intertwined with the military, there is little that the Khomeini family can in fact do. This is because he doesn't see the current battle as only against himself. He also sees it as against his immediate family and their fortunes after his death.

With Ahmadinejad's election in 2009, Seyyed Ali Khamenei decided to put all his eggs in the military's basket. Moving them does not seem like an option that the Supreme Leader will pursue.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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The principle question that comes to mind for a great number of Iranians is, when will mullahs move to Najaf where they belong? The Iranian people have had it with mullahcracy and nothing will satisfy them more than to issue one way tickets for mullahs to their promised land of milk and honey in Iraq. IRGC will join the people once their corrupt leadership departs the scene.


God bless America, my home. God bless Persia, the country these barbarians have temporarily taken away from me.

Sohrab / January 5, 2010 2:08 AM

Does the name Zbigniew Brzezinski ring a bell? or his theory of the Arc of Crisis? If not, look it up.

Is that idea to be thrown out the window? Then the regime is gone.

I don't think the idea is out the window, Iraq, Afghanestan, are in place. Yemen will be soon. Iran was put in place 30 years ago. It will have to stay as is or the energy spent in the whole region is wasted. The arc will control the oil, and thus our competitor, China, EU, and to some extent Russia. The latter not economically, but politically.

The US loves the mullahs and IRGC. Without them, I would be shivering typing this note, that is, if I had electricity to do so. Afghanistan has crimped oil to India and China. Oh, what a shame. Iran will be thorn in the side of the Russians in Chechnia and if need be other moslem states around there.

Meanwhile, we get to sell billions of dollars of weapons to the Gulf states, and keep the factories humming here.

So, sadly, the Khomeini family's defiance will mean not much, in this arc of crisis.

Welcome to the new world order, where have you been? The party has just begun.

Give it another spin (ye ghere dig'ash bedeh).

nassim / January 5, 2010 2:18 AM

Meir, are you even aware of the relationship of Che Guevara's daughter to the Cuban Internationalist cause? How can you compare that to some of the dissatisfied members of the Khomeini family? Why even enter into the thought of rift where there is none?

And the IRGC assuming the Velāyat-e faqih? Where on earth did you dream up that one?

You're overly imaginative- while at the same time inerudite- for your own good.

Since it appears TB is going to continue running this column from Tel Aviv, I'm just going to have to ignore it from now on.

Pirouz / January 5, 2010 3:56 AM


Thank you! And we will surely ignore you!

Heidar / January 5, 2010 3:08 PM

Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi appears to be the most prominet hard-line cleric, that has formulated the clientalist-authoritarian narrative around Ahmadinejad and the IRGC. He would be a logical choice as successor if Khamene'i wanted a successor close to the Revolutionary Guards, but not likely to be accepted by the Council of Experts, that is currently still headed by Rafsanjani. Ergo: the Council of Experts needs to be 'cleansed' first, before such a succession will be possible, which would be seen as a full-fledged coup d'etat in Iran.

Erik / January 5, 2010 7:46 PM

Khatami, Khamaenei like Khomeini are all Mullahs and we DO NOT WANT Theocracy. One day soon, they shall all wll want to move to Najaf, where they belong. We do not want Islamic Republic in Iran!

Maziar Irani / January 6, 2010 12:16 AM

IRGC can never be a replacement for Supreme Leadership. The writer of this article has no realistic conception of what Velayat Faghih or Supreme Leadership is about. I suggest TB to work with more learned scholars inside Iran and then tries to translate their perspectives rather than publishing the phantasies of outsiders.

didaar / January 6, 2010 1:25 PM

It is wonderful to have Israeli analysts contribute to TehranBureau. At the moment, TB is affiliated with Frontline PBS; it would be good if this site would also get affiliated with an Israeli newspaper or institute.

Can Meir assist us with this connection ?

Homayoon / January 6, 2010 2:20 PM

Dear friends,
Thanks for your feedback.
Regarding the IRGC taking over the country after Khamenei's death: yes this seems far fetched. But its a possibility that can not be overlooked. On the same token, in a country run by valiye faghih, it may have seen far fetched a few years ago to imagine Khamenei backing an ex Basiji like Ahmadinejad over a cleric such as Rafsanjani. However, the Islamic republic, much like any other living organism goes through changes. Taking into consideration the benefit of Khamenei family after his death, and his policies before, the role of IRGC in the future leadership, even replacing velayate faghih is one which merits discussion.

As with regards to unfriendly remarks about my nationality: I am Iranian and was born in Iran and lived there until 1987. I come from a 2500 years old Persian Jewish community. Our link with Iran and with its people and heritage is unbreakable, no matter what names or insults (which unfortunately I only get from my Iranian compatriots). Israel has also been good to me, and has provided me with a home, the same as US or UK have been to other Iranians.
Even if I were not Iranian, I think tolerance should be shown, and people should be judged for their opinion, and not their nationality or color of skin.

Meir Javedanfar
Tel Aviv

Meir Javedanfar / January 6, 2010 9:06 PM


I am very interested to know about how Iranians are received in Israel and a little about life in that country in general, if you would please.

Sohrab / January 7, 2010 2:13 AM


In response to your recent comment,

For the sake of your "unbreakable link" with Iran and her people, I hope that you, as someone who is given the position to have such an important exposure and official assignment by Israel, would help reduce the deliberate tension that Israeli hardliners are creating to make it sound necessary for Iran to be attacked in America. It's been nonstop and in every news media from CNN, WSJ to NYT and all others.

In your other article, I along with many others, took your comment of linking Intifada to events in Iran as unrelated and highly questionable and expressed our objection for your poor analogy. One can say that was an "insult" to Iranians by you. And we would still express our objection if you were a Mexican, French, or a Hindu from Denmark. Get it?

Behzad / January 7, 2010 9:59 AM

Iranians are viewed as cultured and law abiding. Israelis love our food and have tremendous respect for our culture. They see Persians as far superior to Arabs (which has its own negative connotations too, because you do find anti-Arab people here, many of whom are actually from such countries).

In Israel they make jokes about every nationality. We Persians get the stingy jokes (Kurds get the stupid jokes, Georgians get hairy jokes etc..). There are some funny ones. Why? well, a lot of people moved here from Esfahan (including my entire family). :-)

But all in all we are quite successful. We miss Iran terribly, but we keep traditions here. Israel has also been very good to us. We feel very Israeli too. Majority of Iranians here support the right. Minority belong to the left. I am against the occupation of West Bank. In fact, Israel's FIRST EVER peace pioneer called Abie Nathan was born in Abadan.

Erdatamand, Meir

Meir Javedanfar / January 7, 2010 12:01 PM

Dear Meir,

I hope to see the day when Israel & Iran rekindle healthy and mutually beneficial ties. I think the Israeli people and Iranians will get along very well!

Please write a column about what the Israeli view of the Green Movement is, especially in the press and among people (public opinion).

Hoping you will visit a free Iran this year,

Amir / January 7, 2010 8:29 PM

I thank you,very interesting.I quite agree with Amir.We need to know more about Israel from an Iranian perspective.If you could dedicate a coulumn and introduce us first hand.We must brush aside years of misunderstanding based on misinformation.

Sohrab / January 7, 2010 9:52 PM

Interesting but let's stop OVER ANALYZING.

The Basijis have been suppressive, killing, and torturing people since the start of the revolution and Khomeini encouraged that. Khomeini and Khomenei could not be more SIMILAR. If the people had revolted during Khomeini's time, HE WOULD HAVE UNLEASHED THE BASIJIS just like what's happening now.

The islamic regime in Iran has has a brutal strategy to suppress anyone who says anything bad about them.

What happening now is VERY SIMPLE:


I had MANY encounters with the Basijis growing up in Iran and despite the fact that I was only 10 years old, it did not stop them from harassing and threatening me and my friends. They were all over all schools. FEAR has been the TOOL of the ISLAMIC regime since DAY 1.

Khomeinei, Khomenei, ahmadi nejad, all cut from the same cloth. Even Khatami is one of them. He was pushed to the front in the 90's to offer "hope" and prevent an uprising.

Irani / January 9, 2010 2:26 AM

Well, it's certainly a possibility but is it a sustainable choice. There are hidden rifts in IRGC and when Khameneie is gone there is no assurance that these will continue to remain hidden. with which side of IRGC will Khamenei trust with the fate of his family? I think still the more probable case is that Khameneie feels good about his health condition and is taking time to make his mind on this issue. Unlike Shah he can not fantasize much about the option that they leave the country at worst. The international community would not just simply welcome them.

Nevertheless, A very interesting thought.

Mohammad / January 10, 2010 4:10 AM

Would it not be easier for the minority who do not like the present semi democratic / mullah system to leave Iran and join there Ideological / Zoroastrian / Royalist / Pork Eating & Anything to do with Islam hating relatives and Friends in the US & Europe. Surely this is the simplest solution for all concerned as they must make up no more than 5 maybe 10% of the disgruntled & the majority of these are in Tehran. Oh and by the way Tehran is not Iran the Majority yes even those people who these urbanites consider lowly and uneducated farmers and peasants have a vote and they vote for this system. Yes Iran is not perfect yes there can be a lot more change in the current system but No this should not be done by hardline Atheist/Pagans allied and funded by western organisations to soley destabalise the current Iranian Polity and country. Iran up until these recent incidents was a beacon of light to millions in the world who wanted to see peace, justice and islamic based rule for there own societies as well.

Dawood / January 11, 2010 3:06 PM