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Breaking Down Khamenei’s Inner Circle


Ali Khamenei, Iran's leader, meeting a group of senior clerics-- 9 Mar 2017

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has played a crucial role in the fate of the so-called Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.

From 1981 to 1989, he served two terms as president, and since 1989 he has led the country as successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

During all these years, Khamenei has worked with hundreds of people from the political elite. But only a handful have been able to gain his trust and join his inner circle. Others he either just tolerates or isolates, or even places under house arrest for disloyalty.

Khamenei rewards those close to him with high positions in non-elected institutions, such as the Guardian Council or the Expediency Council, or appointments as advisers to himself or the president.

Here is a glance at some of the central players.

All of these people have one thing in common: They are all completely obedient to ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They make no compromises in their animosity toward critics and opponents of the leader... Only with their help is Khamenei able to maintain his dictatorship.

Ali Akbar Velayati

Velayati served as Iran's foreign minister from 1981 to 1997. Later, Khamenei appointed him as his adviser and a member of the council for foreign relations.

When Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died this past January, Khamenei immediately named Velayati to succeed Rafsanjani as head of the board of founders of Azad University. With assets worth billions of dollars, Azad University is an institution founded by Rafsanjani. For a long time, Khamenei tried to bring the wealthy institution under his own control.

Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Iran's supreme leader, undated.
Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Iran's supreme leader, undated.

The reason the supreme leader likes and trusts Velayati is that he, like himself, is a conspiracy theorist who constantly searches for enemies and is vehemently anti-Western. Velayati wants to Islamize Azad University more than before and believes its students should be pious Muslims, as he stated in an interview last year.

Mostafa Mir-Salim

In 1985, during Khamenei’s presidency, Mir-Salim was his choice for prime minister. However, leftist MPs, supported by Khomeini -- supreme leader at the time -- did not support him and imposed Mir Hossein Mousavi on the president.

Mousavi is one of the leaders of the so-called Green Movement who is currently under house arrest.

Mostafa Mirsalim, former Minister of Culture May 2017
Mostafa Mirsalim, former Minister of Culture May 2017

As culture minister from 1994 1997, Mir-Salim implemented the harshest censorship on cultural works. If censorship of a book can be considered killing the writer’s thoughts, Mir-Salim is a mass murderer who killed thousands of them.

Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei

As a high-ranking official of the judiciary for many years and intelligence minister in the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (2005-2009), Ejei has played an important role carrying out Khamenei’s wishes for the suppression of journalists and the opposition.

The United States and the European Union placed him on the list of sanctioned individuals due to his role in the suppression of Green Movement supporters.

First deputy and the spokesman of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.
First deputy and the spokesman of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.

Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel

Haddad-Adel, who has served as speaker of the Iranian Parliament, shares family ties with the supreme leader; his daughter is married to Khamenei’s son. Without this boost, Haddad-Adel could probably barely even become a high-school teacher.

Now, in addition to several distinguished positions, such as president of the Persian Academy, he teaches Western philosophy to graduate students at Tehran University despite not having much knowledge on the subject.

Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the head of Iran's main conservative parties, gives a speech during a conservatives campaign meeting for the parliamentary elections at Motahari mosque in Tehran, February 23, 2016
Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the head of Iran's main conservative parties, gives a speech during a conservatives campaign meeting for the parliamentary elections at Motahari mosque in Tehran, February 23, 2016

Haddad-Adel is the author of a book about the German philosopher Immanuel Kant that is, in fact, plagiarized.

He opposes any kind of reform or change and has played a crucial role in purging universities of free thinkers. Along with his family members, he runs several elite schools for training new recruits for the regime.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati

Jannati, a hard-line cleric, is one of the oldest members of the influential Guardian Council, which pre-approves candidates for presidential and parliamentary elections, among other things.

In 1992, Khamenei appointed Jannati as chairman of the council, a position he has held since.

Jannati is responsible for keeping liberal minds and any critics of the leader away from important positions such as the office of the president or key parliamentary positions.

At the age of 90, Jannati also presides over the Council of Experts, which is responsible for selecting the supreme leader.

Iran Guardian Council head Ahmad Janati in Iraq, undated
Iran Guardian Council head Ahmad Janati in Iraq, undated

All of these people have one thing in common: They are all completely obedient to ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They make no compromises in their animosity toward critics and opponents of the leader and would do anything to keep them away from power. Only with their help is Khamenei able to maintain his dictatorship.

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    Majid Mohammadi

    Majid Mohammadi is an Iranian sociologist and political analyst residing in the U.S., who contributes opinion and analysis to Radio Farda.

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