Jun 4, 2019

Thirty years into rule, Khamenei continues centralizing power in Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photo: Iran's Leader Press Office – handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

June 4 marks the 30th anniversary of Seyyed Ali Khamenei's reign as Iran’s Supreme Leader, making him one of the longest-serving autocrats in the modern Middle East.

Why it matters: Khamenei’s rule has seen increased tension with and distrust of the West, proxy warfare across the region, troubled relationships with a series of presidents, and escalating protests. Iran has only grown more authoritarian under Khamenei, making it unlikely the country will change course either at home or abroad.

Background: The Islamic Republic's political system was conceived by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founding father of the 1979 revolution. It centers on the concept of the “Guardianship of the Jurist,” also known as the Supreme Leader, Iran's most powerful political, religious and military figure.

  • Khamenei, who previously served as president of the Islamic Republic, assumed this role under highly contentious circumstances in June 1989, following Khomeini's death.
  • With the support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other hardliners, Khamenei has governed by deflecting blame, balancing factions, centralizing control and suppressing opposition.

What’s next: Khamenei will turn 80 in July, and predictions of his potential replacement and succession challenges have been plentiful.

  • Although the Iranian constitution provides for a body called the Assembly of Experts to select the next leader, the conventional wisdom holds that this process may well be ignored during a power vacuum.
  • Rather than defaulting to another hardline cleric, some envision a clerical council, a military dictatorship or even a disruptive, potentially revolutionary transition.

The bottom line: The Islamic Republic and the institution of Supreme Leader are now as much products of Khamenei’s reframing as of Khomeini’s founding. Whoever succeeds him, Khamenei will have made a lasting impact on Iran.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Go deeper

Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers as South Korean cases surge

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,100 people and infected over 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 114 new deaths since Wednesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

Massive MGM data breach: Guests' personal details posted on hacking site

The MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

An MGM Resorts security breach last summer resulted in the personal details of 10.6 million guests published on a hacking forum this week, ZDNet first reported Wednesday.

Why it matters: Federal government employees and high-profile guests were affected by the breach, according to analysis by data breach monitoring service Under the Bridge and ZDNet — including officials from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Microsoft staffers and singer Justin Bieber.

George Zimmerman sues Buttigieg and Warren for $265M

George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, in November 2013. Photo: Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images

George Zimmerman filed a lawsuit in Polk County, Fla., seeking $265 million in damages from Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, accusing them of defaming him to "garner votes in the black community."

Context: Neither the Massachusetts senator nor the former Southbend mayor tweeted his name in the Feb. 5 posts on what would've been the 25th birthday of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen Zimmerman fatally shot in 2012. But Zimmerman alleges they "acted with actual malice" to defame him.