December 31, 2015


The Second Coming of Khomeini : The grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder is entering the political fray in Tehran -- and could just be President Rouhani's savior. (Foreign Policy, DECEMBER 30, 2015)

Supporters have long wanted Khomeini to enter the public arena. He is markedly younger than the current crop of top Iranian politicians and has already shown something of a youthful, common touch: He's known to be a fan of Iran's soccer league and has appeared as a guest on a popular television fanzine. On the show, he said he thought he could have had a career in the game if his grandfather had not ordered him to deepen his religious studies when he was 21 years old.

Khomeini's 18-year-old son, Ahmad, is another asset. He has 188,000 followers on Instagram, which unlike Facebook or Twitter is not blocked in Iran and offers his father a unique platform to connect with young voters. The Instagram feed provides an insight into the societal change that Khamenei shows no willingness to acknowledge: Photos show Ahmad in Nike sports clothes at a time when Khamenei says American brands should be banned. Yet the teenager is also reverent toward his ancestors, posting pictures of his great-grandfather (who famously branded America "the Great Satan") and he has taken part in religious ceremonies himself, seamlessly inhabiting both the old and new Iran.

Hassan Khomeini, meanwhile, already has a powerful array of allies for the forthcoming election. Rouhani and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, are his main public backers; both are members of the Assembly and will seek new eight-year terms -- a tenure Khamenei may not outlive. [...]

The official campaign season for next year's elections runs for only two weeks for the Assembly, and one week for the parliament -- but the battle for influence has been raging for months. The polls for the Assembly carry more potency than normal, because of renewed speculation about the health of Khamenei. He is 76 years old and underwent prostate surgery in 2014. The supreme leader is viewed as above criticism, but talk of the succession is growing and has received some level of official blessing. Rafsanjani -- who, despite being older than Khamenei, is still seen as a potential successor -- recently revealed that the Assembly has started to look at potential replacements.

While a startling admission in itself, the announcement takes on new relevance because of Khomeini's entry to politics. Khamenei's inner circle has been struggling to identify a successor who has the necessary combination of religious training, political influence, and public charisma to lead the country. Unlike most of the names mentioned -- Rafsanjani; head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani; and former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi -- Khomeini bears the black clerical turban, which denotes his direct lineage to the Prophet Mohammed.

Although Khomeini's name alone will not get him the job of supreme leader, the situation could quickly change. A few years on the Assembly could burnish his credentials, as well as neutralize the issue of his relative youth. Alternately, if the succession comes quicker than that, he could swing support for a less hard-line candidate.

Posted by at December 31, 2015 4:34 PM