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Khamenei’s Speeches Lose Their Luster In The Age Of Social Media

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on January 17, 2020 shows him delivering a sermon to the crowd during Friday Prayers in the capital Tehran.
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on January 17, 2020 shows him delivering a sermon to the crowd during Friday Prayers in the capital Tehran.

The Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is known to be an ardent speaker. He has delivered 1719 speeches during the past 31 years. However, he seems to be losing his skill.

Speeches are no longer the magic way of communicating with and influencing the masses. Many of those who follow Khamenei's comments have assessed his latest sermon on Friday January 17 as a poor speech full of repetitions that did not convince the audiences. The speech was also devoid of anything new in its form or content.

During the past three decades, speaking has been Khamenei's main method of reaching out to his supporters and the people. He has delivered an average of 55 speeches of varying quality every year.

This week, he was back to the Friday Prayers podium after 8 years and nearly everyone expected a hit, particularly because Iran had left behind a few major events including the killing of Khamenei's most important general, Qassem Soleimani, and the downing of a civilian airliner with IRGC missiles that claimed 176 lives. Everyone wanted to hear Khamenei's reaction to those events.

However, there was nothing new in his speech which was also devoid of the usual passion and full of repetitions. As usual, he praised the IRGC and Soleimani, attacked the U.S. and Europe, and tried to ignore and humiliate the protesters who have been lately calling for his resignation. He also made passing comments about the downed civilian aircraft.

He even did not meet the expectations of his supporters who wanted to see the same leader who would revolutionize them with his passionate words against the U.S. and Israel. But they saw a different man. The skinny 81-year old man was like any old man suffering weakness and ailments.

He did not seem confident enough about his ability to influence, so he repeated his points several times to make sure that at least listeners sitting within a distance of a few meters will take his points seriously. This was a man who used to have the final say on everything and his supporters want to see him as such.

This, however, does not mean that he will change his way of communicating with the people or that he is not going to deliver another speech in the future. But he is no longer likely to pass for a skillful and avid speaker.

Forty years ago, it was Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who suggested that Khamenei should replace him as Tehran's prayer Imam. He described Khjamenei as "a good speaker." He gave speeches during 30 years of his career as the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader. But recently, the audiences already know what he is going to say. They mock him for repeating the word "enemy" and search for his previous comments on the Internet to highlight contradictions in his speech and behavior.

In the past, the people had to listen to him and take his word for wat he wanted to say. But with the emergence of social media, he is not the only one who speaks. Listeners, including U.S. President Donald Trump can challenge him and comment about what he said almost immediately. It is true some Iranians have less access to the Internet and social media than others, mainly because of the censorship imposed by Khamenei's men, but millions have a chance to respond.

Many can also find out what Khamenei and Trump said and decide for themselves about who is right and who is not.

The emergence of social media and its interactive nature has coincided with the declining influence of public speaking as a way of communicating with others. Khamenei has lost some of his advantages as people can attack him on platforms such as Twitter and challenge him or even ridicule him.

In the new age of communications, the state TV is no longer the only source of news for the people. Social media have challenged Khamenei and Iran's state TV at the same time.

Although undoubtedly Khamenei is still the most powerful and influential political figure in the Islamic Republic, the people no longer see what he says as important and continue to protest against him and his regime with a renewed vigor and demand his resignation in the streets loud and clear.

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    Morad Vaisibiame

    Morad Veisi is a journalist and an editor at Radio Farda and is considered an expert in affairs related to Iran's IRGC and the Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei.