Amid Iran Protests, a Highly effective Chief Emerges From the Shadows

As Iranians take to the streets to protest the nation’s strict Muslim costume code, they’ve chanted for the demise of a person who as soon as wielded energy in secret and now has a rising public profile—

Mojtaba Khamenei,

son of the Islamic Republic’s supreme chief.

Mr. Khamenei, 53 years previous, has no official authorities place. However U.S. and Iranian officers have mentioned he’s accountable for his father’s enterprise empire and is influential in appointing safety officers and typically overseeing key elements of Iran’s safety equipment, which has come beneath renewed scrutiny following violent clashes between police and protesters over the demise of Mahsa Amini, who died whereas being held in police custody for allegedly violating legal guidelines on dressing modestly.

Among the many Iranian ruling class, Mr. Khamenei has constructed a status as each an enforcer for and gatekeeper to his father,

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,

who has been Iran’s supreme chief for the previous 33 years. Now he has turn out to be a severe contender to succeed his father, mentioned individuals with information of the matter.

“Within the court docket of the supreme chief, he’s a strong shadow behind the curtains,” mentioned Saeid Golkar, an authority on Iran’s safety companies who teaches on the College of Tennessee.

In late August, Iran’s non secular institution elevated the youthful Mr. Khamenei to the rank of ayatollah, a prestigious non secular title that he would want to turn out to be the supreme chief of Iran. The appointment got here as his father’s well being worsened in current weeks, which compelled the 83-year-old to cancel conferences and go into short-term seclusion, the individuals mentioned.

The looks that the elder Mr. Khamenei is grooming his son for succession is controversial in Iran, the place the 1979 revolution put in clerical rule and rejected hereditary monarchy as corrupt.

And such a succession is on no account assured. Standing in the best way is President

Ebrahim Raisi,

a cleric near the supreme chief with extra political credentials and a widely known public persona. The youthful Mr. Khamenei, in contrast, is never seen in public.

However he’s rapidly turning into a spotlight for protesters’ anger within the wake of Ms. Amini’s demise.

“Mojtaba, could you die and never see the management,” a crowd chanted in Tehran in current days.

It couldn’t be decided what position the youthful Mr. Khamenei has performed within the response to the previous week’s protests. At the least 41 individuals have died to this point through the unrest, based on state media, as authorities make use of more and more deadly techniques, together with firing dwell ammunition at crowds.

Iran analysts say Mr. Khamenei’s rising public profile is an indication of the nation’s anti-Western line hardening at a time of faltering nuclear negotiations with the West, financial decay at dwelling and rising discontent with Islamic rule.

The rise of Mr. Khamenei marks a shift away from the normal non secular management that was essential to the founding of the Islamic Republic, mentioned analysts and other people near the Iranian authorities. He as an alternative represents the paramilitaries and extra radical clerics which have emerged in recent times as essentially the most highly effective actors within the nation, these individuals mentioned.

In his father’s authorities, Mr. Khamenei’s areas of affect embody worldwide army and intelligence operations, and the Basij, a paramilitary group that’s deeply entrenched all through the nation, U.S. and Iranian officers mentioned.

“Mojtaba is near the safety equipment,” mentioned Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Center East North Africa program on the U.Ok.’s Royal Institute of Worldwide Affairs. If he rises to energy, she added, “on no account ought to we anticipate a liberal.”

Mr. Khamenei and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps couldn’t be reached for this text. The Basij, the workplace of the Supreme Chief, the ministries of data and of overseas affairs in Tehran, and Iran’s United Nations illustration in New York didn’t reply to requests to remark.

Mr. Khamenei is the second-oldest son of Iran’s supreme chief. He was born within the household’s ancestral dwelling of Mashhad, the holy metropolis within the nation’s northeast. His identify is the Arabic phrase for “chosen.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been Iran’s supreme chief for the previous 33 years.


Iranian Supreme Chief’s Workplace/Zuma Press

When his father was Iran’s president within the Eighties, Mr. Khamenei fought within the Habib Battalion, a legendary unit concerned in crucial battles of the Iran-Iraq warfare. Habib was a cradle for troopers who went on to turn out to be safety officers accused of acts of repression.

Mr. Khamenei first got here to public consideration in 2005 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turned the primary non-cleric elected to Iran’s presidency. Mahdi Karroubi, then an adviser to the supreme chief and an unsuccessful presidential candidate, resigned after accusing Mr. Khamenei of serving to Mr. Ahmadinejad. The older Mr. Khamenei accused Mr. Karroubi of fomenting a “disaster within the nation.”

In 2009, opposition leaders mentioned that the son of the supreme chief helped rig the vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad and that he backed a crackdown on protests that shook the nation, with lots of of hundreds of individuals turning out in a motion known as the Inexperienced Motion.

At the least 36 individuals died within the 2009 protests, based on official statistics. Opponents of the regime have claimed that the fatalities may very well be twice that quantity.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is near the supreme chief.


ed jones/Agence France-Presse/Getty Photos

Mr. Khamenei has by no means commented on the vote-rigging allegations. Iran’s Guardian Council, which oversees elections, carried out a partial recount and confirmed Mr. Ahmadinejad because the winner.

By 2019, the U.S. Treasury assessed that Mr. Khamenei had taken on a number of the supreme chief’s obligations, advancing “his father’s destabilizing regional ambitions and oppressive home aims.” That very same yr, a U.S. congressional report concluded that Mojtaba Khamenei had “vital enter” in management selections in Iran.

The Treasury issued restrictions towards Mr. Khamenei, freezing any property he would have within the U.S. and warning that anybody doing enterprise with him could be sanctioned.

He was thrust again into the highlight in August, when a information company affiliated with the Islamic Seminary of Qom, Iran’s predominant middle of non secular studying, reported he had been elevated to the rank of ayatollah. The title is the minimal requirement to turn out to be the nation’s supreme chief.

The transfer stunned some Iran observers as a result of Mr. Khamenei has by no means been thought to be a outstanding non secular authority, resulting in hypothesis that he may exchange his father after rising steadily for years.

“Have the two,500-year-old monarchies returned to energy that we’re speaking about Khamenei’s son’s succession?” mentioned Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former Iranian prime minister who’s now beneath home arrest, in a press release to Iran-based opposition web site Kaleme.

Iran’s supreme chief is chosen by an 88-member physique known as the Meeting of Specialists. Though the meeting is dominated by clerics loyal to his father, it isn’t clear that Mr. Khamenei would win a majority of votes.

One compromise being mentioned in ruling circles may additionally contain a ruling council involving Mr. Raisi, the youthful Mr. Khamenei and different senior figures, based on an Iranian official and an adviser to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“Even when he doesn’t rise to move of state, he’ll probably proceed pulling the strings,” Mr. Golkar mentioned.

Protests have continued throughout Iran over the demise of a younger girl taken into custody for allegedly violating the nation’s strict Islamic costume code. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi mentioned Thursday that the incident was beneath investigation. Photograph: AFP/Getty Photos

Write to Benoit Faucon at

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