Is Khamenei preparing his son Mojtaba to succeed him?

Taqi Ali Mohsen
September 12, 2022
There are many indications that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has taken steps to bequeath the leadership and Marji' authority to his son Mojtaba. If true, this would not only be considered as a new turning point in the course of the Iranian experience, but also a novelty in the mechanism of work of the Shiite Marjiya, which has not previously witnessed a bequeathing within the family.

There are many indications that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has taken steps to bequeath the leadership and Marji’ authority to his son Mojtaba. If true, this would not only be considered as a new turning point in the course of the Iranian experience, but also a novelty in the mechanism of work of the Shiite Marjiya, which has not previously witnessed a bequeathing within the family.

But this is not totally new. Mir Hossein al-Moussawi, the former prime minister of Iran and one of the leaders of the reform movement who has been under house arrest for more than a decade, had put forward in his introduction to the Arabic translation of the statements of the “Green Movement” that he led in 2009, last month this question, saying: “Have the dynasties that existed 2500 years ago returned back so that the son succeeds his father in leadership and rule?”

Moussawi’s statement provoked harsh reactions from followers of the Iranian leader at the time, but without addressing the issue of the succession of the son to the father. That is why we find Mehdi Karroubi, the other leader of the 2009 protests, who was the first to draw attention to Mojtaba Khamenei in 2005, breaking the silence and demanding an answer to Moussawi’s questions instead of attacking him.

It did not take long before the response came to them by publishing a detailed electronic form for those wishing to attend the advanced classes (pre-postgraduate classes) in Shiite law and jurisprudence of “Ayatollah” Mojtaba Khamenei for the next academic year. Applications will be evaluated and some of their owners will be allowed to attend the lessons, which have not been held publicly until today.

What is interesting about the report is the use of the title “Ayatollah”, as it is not customary to use this name in the seminary (Hawza) for anyone who conducts advanced research or who obtains a license for ijtihad from one of the mujtahids. Rather, it is usually not used until after many years of teaching and other scholars’ recognition of the scholarly status of the mujtahid. How can this name be given to Mojtaba, whom people have never heard of his teaching, where did he study and what did he teach before the advanced research? In the tradition of the seminary (Hawza), the student begins by teaching the stages of introductions, then the primary old books, and then the high old books, and usually only a few reach the level of teaching the advanced research. Regardless of the seminary teaching, to this day people have not heard the voice of this fiftieth mujtahid at all, and no interview with him was published in any field whatsoever.

These events brought to mind the story of his father’s struggle to take over the leadership. When the news presenter on Channel One “Mohammed Reza Hayati” read in June 1989 the statement of the inauguration of “Hujjat al-Islam and Muslims Ali Khamenei” for the leadership position, which the constitution at the time required that the holder of this position should be a reference to tradition (Marjaʿ al-taqlid), then he came back and read the statement again after twenty minutes, this time nicknamed him “Ayatollah”. The disturbance was evident in that process, because Hussein Ali Montazeri was dismissed from the position of deputy commander several months before it, Hence, the seat of the caliphate was not prepared in an expert way. But this time there is enough opportunity to arrange things better.

Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei

Mojtaba, the second son of his father, was born on the 8th of September, 1969 in the city of Mashhad, and attended secondary school at Alawi School in Tehran, which is considered the best school in Iran. Before he finished school, he joined the “Habib Ibn Mazahir” battalion, one of the most famous battalions of the “Muhammad Messenger of God” Corps, which later formed the princes of this battalion, the security and Revolutionary Guards surrounding him today and influential in his father’s office.

He began his seminary studies with some of the professors who frequented his father’s office, and then continued them in the city of Qom. In 1999, he married the daughter of Ghulam Ali Haddad Adel, who entered parliament a few months later, and then became its president after one electoral term. Today, he is a powerful member in the Expediency Discernment Council of the System and one of the influential figures in the leader’s office, along with dozens of subsidiary responsibilities.

In 2005, the Iranians heard for the first time the name of Mojtaba Khamenei as an important politician. Mehdi Karroubi was Khamenei’s advisor. He participated in the ninth presidential elections and according to the announced results, he and Hashemi Rafsanjani were ahead of Ahmadinejad. But in the last hours the results have been reversed. Karroubi wrote a letter to Khamenei and told him that his son Mojtaba had interfered in the election results in favor of Ahmadinejad.

His name was mentioned again in the 2009 elections, and this time he was accused of suppressing the demonstrators until the crowds of protesters chanted in the streets, “Mujtaba! You will approach your death, not the leadership.” Since then, his name has been famous in various issues, the most important of which are economic accusations by internal and external parties. His name also became frequent as the primary controller in the affairs of the office because of his father’s old age. For example, it was mentioned in the memoirs of Muhammad Sarafraz that Mojtaba Khamenei was behind his removal from the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting in 2016.

It is known that Mojtaba was one of the most important protectors of Qassem Soleimani and a supporter of his policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the WikiLeaks document, he oversaw the exchange of arms for narcotics between the Revolutionary Guards and the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

In November 2019, the US Treasury placed his name, along with eight other influential people in Khamenei’s office, on the sanctions list.

Successive Disappearances of Competitors

In recent years, the names of several high-ranking regime officials have been circulated as possible successors to the Iranian leader when needed.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, the kingmaker who brought Khamenei the father to the leadership, was the most significant figure who was expected to play a significant role in this regard. However, he died in early 2017 in a pool belonging to the late Shah’s widow, Farah Pahlavi, mysteriously after reiterating the proposal for a regime based on leadership consultation rather than individual leadership. He was followed a year later by Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who was also rumored to have died under suspicious circumstances. Furthermore, Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi also passed away at the beginning of last year.

Moreover, the espionage case for the United Kingdom involving the daughter of Sadeq Larijani, the former head of the judiciary and one of the candidates for leadership, was also made public, then the corruption case against one of his brothers, followed by the arrest of Akbar Tabari, one of Larijani’s business managers and loyalists who was charged with major economic corruption cases that almost led to Larijani’s imprisonment as well. However, in one of his public speeches, Khamenei cleared his name of this charge and made Larijani indebted to him. Sadiq resigned from the Guardian Council in September 2021 as a result of the ongoing effort to remove all of his brothers from the political system. This included his brother Ali Larijani, the former speaker of the parliament, who was denied the right to participate in the most recent presidential election. Even though he continued to serve as the president of the Expediency Discernment Council of the System, he practically vanished from the political scene.

As for Ahmad Khatami, Tehran’s substitute Friday prayer leader, whose name was circulated in the past, has maintained a low profile and lacked any substantial presence in recent years. Hassan Rouhani, who also saw himself as a potential alternative that the West may accept more readily than any other cleric, declared that he would begin instructing advanced research as soon as his presidency ended, even though he had not previously taught any subject before in the seminary. But after documents were filed against him and he almost ended up in court, the two sides eventually reached a truce.

The last name, Ebrahim Raisi, who reached the presidency through orchestrated elections, announced that his modest abilities are insufficient to hold the office of the presidency, let alone leadership. Particularly during this critical period of sanctions, the public believed that the president is primarily responsible for economic failure, inflation, and currency devaluation.

Apart from the disappearance of the former candidates, several of Mojtaba Khamenei’s loyalists took over. Ahmad Jannati, who frequently equated Khomeini and Khamenei to Israelite prophets, was named the final winner of Tehran in the most recent Assembly of Experts elections following the unusually late announcement of the election results. Nevertheless, despite the presence of Rafsanjani, Hassan Rouhani, and other notable religious figures in this council, this winner, who received the fewest votes, was appointed as the president of this council in addition to the Guardian Council. It is well known that this position plays a crucial part in managing the transition process.

The finest people to facilitate this process are the three heads of the three branches of power. Raisi, the president, who has demonstrated throughout his history that he masters the art of compliance; the speaker of parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Mojtaba Khamenei’s cousin and one of the Revolutionary Guard officers accused of corruption; and the head of the judiciary, Mohseni Eje’i, who is also known to be submissive to his patrons.

Son’s chances of succeeding the father

Unsurprisingly, Mojtaba Khamenei has recently received support from the organizations connected to his father. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s supporters joined them after they were expelled from politics and were disallowed from competing in the elections in the belief that they would win back power through him.

When we compare the son’s chances of ascending to leadership today with those of his father when he assumed control, we discover that they are higher. In terms of age, the father assumed leadership at the age of 50, while the son is now 53, which is an excellent age to ensure that the succession question does not arise in the near future and that leadership remains in the hands of one person for several decades. In terms of education, although it is unknown what Mojtaba has studied so far, he certainly had a better chance of studying than his father, who was preoccupied since his youth with the affairs of the revolution and hence power. This is especially true given that the Constitution now just requires the ability to “deduce” the rules of sharia from the sources of jurisprudence (ijtihad), whereas being a “religious reference” was necessary when his father assumed power. Khamenei himself, in the film that was produced about him three decades ago after his election, addressed the members of the Assembly of Experts and said, “Many of you do not admit that I am an expert in religion, and to this day I have not published any lesson and the public did not have the chance to recognize my religious knowledge, but the inauguration order was made, and then the Constitution changed.”

Iran of today is not the same Iran of the past. The clerics in Iran today represent the most prominent influential forces, but the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards and the influential security, military, and economic figures have the upper hand today in determining the fate of the country, and they are waiting for their turn to assume power.

Before he became the supreme leader of Iran, the father held an executive office as the president even though it was a symbolic position at the time, since all powers were divided between the supreme leader and the prime minister, who headed the government. Therefore, Mojtaba can be easily promoted as having trained in leadership by managing his father’s office. Although being close to Khomeini granted Khamenei legitimacy, it is not more significant than the legitimacy of the lineage that Mojtaba inherited from his father.

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