Hajj Sayyid Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Grand Ayatollah Khamenei is the second Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was born in Mashhad, and studied in the leading Iranian religious seminary in Qom, before becoming involved in the struggle with the Pahlavi Regime in the sixties and seventies. He was a key figure in the revolution in 1979 and served as President between 1981-1989 before succeeding Ayatollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader upon the latter’s death. He has vocally supported most of the unrest in the Arab World, likening it to the Iranian Revolution. As a symbol for Iranian sovereignty, Khamenei lashed out against President Trump’s “gangster” and “cowboy” rhetoric in his speech to the UN in September 2017, in which he threatened Iran and suggested that the US repeal the nuclear deal agreement signed under the Obama era.
Supreme Leader, Velayat-e Faqih: Khamenei’s current influence stems from his powerful position as a religious leader, which gives him a unique role in political affairs. His job is to enact the Velayat-e Faqih—the guardianship of the jurist. In real terms this means a system where scholars of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) have a controlling say in the political affairs of the state. The rule of the jurist was a concept created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, based on ideas that have run through Iranian political history since the time of Shah Ismail—who was the first to make Shia Islam the national religion of Iran. It was conceived in a battle against oppression as a way of safeguarding the Iranian nation from tyranny; giving the final say in all matters to a group of religious scholars, the Council of Guardians. This Council is headed by a chief arbitrator—the Supreme Leader.
Leader of Shia Revolution: Khamenei gains much of his influence in Iran from his role as a leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran was forged out of the 1979 Revolution. Combating what many saw as the tyrannical rule of the Shah, Khamenei joined the Society of Combatant Clergy that staged demonstrations mobilizing many of the protests leading to the Shah’s overthrow. After the revolution in 1979, Khamenei was one of the founding members of the Islamic Republic Party, and a member of the assembly of experts that was responsible for drafting Iran’s new constitution.
Sunni-Shia Reconciliation: On September 2, 2010 Khamenei issued a historic fatwa banning the insult of any symbol that Sunnis hold to be dear, including but not limited to the companions and wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This fatwa was received with great appreciation by the Chancellor of Al-Azhar University, Shaykh Ahmad al-Tayyeb.
Current Issues: The USA’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions will put further strain on the economy. Iran’s role in the Syria and Yemen conflicts and how it maintains it relationships with the Arab world are further key issues that require Khamenei’s lead.