Khamenei’s Strategic Steps to Name Iran’s Next Supreme Leader

Yvette Hovsepian Bearce

Yvette Hovsepian Bearce

is a Middle East scholar and researcher specializing in contemporary Iranian politics. She is a political and cultural advisor to academic delegations traveling to Iran and appears as a guest lecturer on current developments in the Middle East. Her book, The Political Ideology of Ayatollah Khamenei: Out of the Mouth of the Supreme Leader of Iran (Routledge, 2015) was published as a volume in the UCLA Center for Middle East Development series. It has attracted the attention of several prominent U.S. and global leaders. Her research and teaching focus on contemporary Iranian politics, Shi'i political thought, history of Islam, and the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe.Her second book, in progress, is on the subject of Iranian youth. She earned an A.A. from Glendale Community College; a B.A. in Business from California State University, Northridge; an M.A. in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California; and a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Yvette Hovsepian Bearce
Khamenei’s Strategic Steps to Name Iran’s Next Supreme Leader Image ©:SIPA/REX/Shutterstock mpc-journal.org

Khamenei’s Strategic Steps to Name Iran’s Next Supreme Leader Image ©:SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

During a meeting on March 10 with the outgoing Assembly of Experts, Supreme Leader Khamenei clearly stated that it was time for the Iranian leaders to begin thinking about the transition of Iran’s top Leadership—that is, the arrival of the next Supreme Leader of Iran. He then gave advice to Iran’s elite about the professional and personal attributes of his successor and laid down the policies for the Assembly of Experts to begin working in preparation for the next Supreme Leader in case of his demise or in the event he chooses to step down from his power and install the next Leader himself.

Through this critical message, Khamenei is teaching his successors and the children of the Islamic Revolution the revolutionary values and ideals that they should pursue as they prepare Iran for the incoming “new Iranian era”—the era of Iran after Khamenei.

Khamenei is clear about the professional and personal attributes the next Leader should demonstrate:

Islamic Revolutionary values: Khamenei talks about the importance of revolutionary values that the next Leader should possess and maintain in his Leadership. By using the examples of the late Ayatollahs Shaykh ʿAbbas Vaʿez Tabasi and Abolqasem Khazali Boroujerdi (former members of the Assembly of Experts), he defines what he means by “revolutionary values” and characteristics he looks for in the next Leader:

One of the First Generation of the Islamic Revolution

This means someone who was involved in the Islamic Revolution and was occupied by issues of the 1979 Revolution: An active partner or member of the Islamic Revolution. Also possibly someone who was a pioneer or was deeply involved in the Islamic Revolution. Khamenei explains that men of this ilk were “revolutionary men” who valued Islamic revolutionary ideals, stood by them, did not waver despite pressures or changes over the years in the political atmosphere. They, thus, haven’t swayed from their revolutionary beliefs and have been faithful to Khomeini’s revolutionary principles. In other words, they maintained revolutionary values, protected and defended the Islamic Revolution, stood by its principles, and continued the revolutionary movement in Iran.

By using the example of these two men Khamenei is indicating that he believes it is in the best interests of Iran that the next Leader is one who has been 1) an active participant of the Islamic Revolution, 2) played a critical role in the victory of the Revolution whether he was an activist or supporter of Khomeini, and 3) fought for the Islamic government. This way such an individual shouldn’t only intellectually and historically understand the values of Khomeini’s movement for his envisioned Islamic government but also should have an emotional connection to the Revolution. Why does Khamenei want this in the next Leader? Because he believes that an individual who has fought so hard for a cause will do everything in his disposal to protect that cause, so it continues to prosper and grow. Hence, he will not allow that cause—the cause for the continuation of a “true” Islamic government—to cease due to external pressures. Also that person will not subvert Iran’s mission as a result of foreign pressures and will not change the present course of Iran.

One Possess a Basiji Spirit

A pious, vigilant, and insightful Leader who possesses the Islamic Revolution’s political orientation within him and a jihadist who struggles for the survival of the regime.

Five policies Khamenei outlines for Iran’s leadership

Muslim unity

Khamenei calls upon Iran’s leadership to commit to Muslim unity and resist any instigated regional wars that in principle, and in his view, are purely political ethnic wars caused by America, the Zionists, and the enemies of Iran. He believes that what the US defines as religious wars are indeed ethnic and political wars with the intent to create division and discord among Muslims. Khamenei believes the US is utilizing regional instabilities to create discord and division in Iran. That means, in his view, the US is using external conflicts to create internal war among Iranians. What Khamenei is saying is that Muslim unity at this point of his Leadership as he is approaching the end of his Leadership has become even more important for him because any regional instability and any discord, division or war among Muslims at any level might cause instability in Iran and lead to foreign infiltration of the Iranian society.

A strict “Neither East, Nor West” Policy

Resistance against foreign domination, especially the United States. Normally this is the foremost policy for Khamenei. In the face of threats of Daesh and other regional threats or instabilities, at this point of his Leadership, Khamenei has made Muslim unity his top foreign policy.

Resistance Economy

Economic growth can be achieved through following the policies of resistance economy. Khamenei tasks President Rouhani’s government with starting an economic headquarter that will specifically work on executing the policies of resistance economy. This is expected to primarily focus on domestic production and oil-free economy. Iran’s expedited progress must be concentrated on internal resources and power.

“We need to turn our focus to internal and domestic resources and rely on our strong domestic base. If we want to experience this true progress, we must preserve our revolutionary characteristics, our jihadi movement, our dignity, and national identity, so that we are not consumed in this dangerous global culture and economy,” says Khamenei.

Expedited Scientific Progress

Khamenei reminds Iran’s leadership that they must become “the global command centre for scientific references”.

“In order to accomplish this goal, we must strengthen our science and have expedited scientific progress. We have to pursue this seriously and with determination,” Khamenei emphasises.

The missile testing in mid-March 2016 is yet another message Khamenei is sending not only to the international community but even more so to the Iranian elite: Scientific growth without any hesitation or worry about foreign powers should continue after his demise. In his view, Iran must progress!

Cultural Security

Khamenei asks the leaders to devise policies that would immunize Iran and its young people from any infiltration by “arrogant powers,” especially America. He strongly believes that it is US’s plan and intention to infiltrate Iran politically, economically, culturally, and socially. He warns the government that if they are not cautious, America will enter Iran through the back door. This means that the US will attempt to influence Iran’s leadership by changing their minds and plans about specific policies they want to pursue domestically or internationally. Thus, the US might change Iranians’ decisions and policies, which are in the best interests of Iran.

This would then influence the Iranian people by altering their beliefs in the system, in Islam, in the Revolution and in political Islam. Consequently, Iranians will be no longer able to attend to their obligations, which might lead to developing negative views about their community, their civilization, and their country.

Khamenei insists that America wants to change the beliefs and desires of the Iranian people, and most importantly it wants to reverse Iran’s “political” independence. While the sanctions are being lifted, Khamenei further warns Iranians to vigilant, especially that Iran is moving into globalization and becoming a critical partner in global affairs.

Khamenei favours continuity and repetition of critical events, which formulated the Islamic Republic and gave rise to a strong Islamic regime in Iran. Based on this background, it is likely that Khamenei might consider a rather younger than older successor – possibly between 50 and 65 years of age as opposed to someone in his 70s. This eliminates the risk of changes in Iran’s Leadership, should his successor live longer.

In order to assure the survival of vilayat-i faqih (the Guardianship of the Jurisconsult or the office of Supreme Leadership), Khamenei may choose to elect a conservative, yet moderate successor, who has full support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

President Rouhani seems to be a great candidate as Iran’s third Supreme Leader, if he plays his cards right and is able to fully implement Khamenei’s economic policies and overcome any growing tensions between him and the IRGC. Based on his relationship with the Supreme Leader during his presidency and the nation’s progress in the international realm, coupled with his moderate tone and strong support of the Iranian people, Rouhani seems to fit perfectly the qualities Khamenei is looking for in the next Leader.

This article went through minor changes suggested by the author after it had been first published on (25 March 2016 @ 15:05:48).


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