Accessibility links

Breaking News

Dreams And Nightmares: The Larijani Clan And The Run-Up To Succession In Iran

President Hassan Rouhani shaking hands with Amoli Larijani, with Ali Larijani on the left. Undated. File photo

The Islamic Republic of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed outgoing Majles Speaker Ali Larijani as his adviser and a member of the Expediency Council, demoting his status to a not-so-influential politician who has to spend his life at a not-so-significant advisory council.

Ali Larijani's rise to power as Majles Speaker was a symbol of the rising power of the Larijani clan; and his departure from the parliament signalled the decline in the clan's influence and status.

But this decline which was marked by damning disclosures against the Larijanis has its root in a bigger story: The story of succession to replace Khamenei after his death.

The former Speaker’s brother Sadeq Amoli Larijani who is currently the chairman of Expediency Council wrote a strongly worded letter to his predecessor Mohammad Yazdi in August 2019 in which he said the disclosures are part of "a game being played by the state TV and other institutions, as part of a bigger project."

The semiology of recent developments in Iran reveals that the project was one of preventing Sadeq Larijani from rising to the throne of the Supreme Leader as a successor to Khamenei. From this perspective former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's battle against Sadeq Larijani was a proxy war on behalf of former Judiciary Chief Mahmoud Shahroudi, also a contestant for succession.

Sadeq started a campaign to marginalize Shahroudi and had some of his rival’s aides arrested to portray him as a corrupt and inefficient manager. As this battle escalated alongside the war between Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, Shahroudi tried to form an alliance with Ahmadinejad.

This episodes, however, remained inconclusive with Shahroudi's death. In the meantime, Sadeq Larijani jailed Ahmadinejad's aides. But the former president’s camp dealt harder blows to Larijanis by revealing transactions in the Judiciary's bank accounts and accusing Larijani's daughter of espionage.

But Shahroudi's death was not the end of the story. The rise to power of Ebrahim Raeesi, another contestant for the post of Supreme Leader, to the post of Judiciary Chief had a clear message for Sadeq Larijani: That Shahroudi was dead, but there were still other rivals.

By arresting a close aide to Sadeq Larijani and highlighting corruption cases in the Judiciary, Raeesi did to him what he had tried to do to Shahroudi.

In this way, Sadeq's attempts to position himself as a successor to Khamenei turned into the clan's point of weakness.

The same has happened to Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, yet another contestant dreaming to sit on his grandfather's throne as the Islamic Republic's next leader.

The young Khomeini fell in the trap of leadership so hard and so deep that he could not even get a seat for himself at the Assembly of Experts. This deprived him of any political chance for a long time to come.

The same threat also exists for Hassan Rouhani, one more candidate for the post of next Supreme Leader. Rouhani's attempts to appease Khamenei by proving his full obedience, has so terrified his rivals that they do their best to deprive him of any future political chance. This explains why when Rouhani called the nuclear deal with world powers, "The biggest victory of all times," Sadeq Larijani swiftly moved to prove him wrong and to say it wasn't a victory at all.

In another example, following a 2018 missile attack on ISIS positions in Syria, when Rouhani said that the IRGC simply carried out a decision made by the Supreme Council of National Security, the IRGC quickly reacted and announced the strike was an IRGC initiative and had nothing to do with Rouhani and his administration.

These examples as well as IRGC's missile tests after the JCPOA indicate that the power struggle was perhaps not over the nuclear deal or relations with the United States. It was about the credit that could have been given to Rouhani thanks to a breakthrough with America. In such a tense situation no one wants his rival to have an opportunity to prove his potentials for leadership.

To the same extent that the chance of becoming the Supreme Leader can be an opportunity or a dream, the ambition can equally lead to a threat or even a nightmare.

The Larijani clan have still not experienced their nightmare. However, they have most probably realized that the ceiling for their dreams under the Islamic Republic was what they already had a chance to experienc during the past ten years.

  • 16x9 Image

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.