The Next Supreme Leader: Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran

The Next Supreme Leader: Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran

The Next Supreme Leader: Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran

The Next Supreme Leader: Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Excerpt

As the commander in chief and highest political authority in Iran, the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has played a critical role in the direction of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This has never been more true than during the tumultuous 2009 presidential elections, the outcome of which was determined by Khamenei’s decisive support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Only two men have held the position of Supreme Leader since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979: Khamenei and his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. These two leaders are characterized by widely disparate personalities, leadership skills, and political instincts. Khomeini was scholarly, iconic, and charismatic, creating and sustaining the position of Supreme Leader through his personal standing. In contrast, Khamenei has relied on alliance-building, patronage, and the vast bureaucracy controlled by the Supreme Leader’s office to maintain and expand his influence. As Khamenei ages, and as rumors of his ill health intensify, U.S. policymakers and analysts need to consider the various scenarios for what may follow after he passes from the scene. The eventual outcome—what the office of the Supreme Leader looks like in Khamenei’s wake—will determine the Islamic Republic’s direction.

The research documented in this report identifies three key factors that will shape succession of the next Supreme Leader and outlines alternative scenarios for the post-Khamenei era. For each of the factors, it provides a set of indicators that observers can use to assess the most important trends. It situates all of this within the context of the June . . .

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