Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei reportedly suffered from stage 4 prostate cancer. Khamenei underwent prostate surgery in September 2014 and spent about a week in the hospital. His hospitalization in March 2015 spurred on the race for a successor. The appointment of Khamenei’s successor will be influenced as much by his political connections than his religious knowledge.
With growing unrest in Iran fuelled by major socioeconomic problems, the Assembly of Experts will likely be more inclined to elect a relatively young Supreme Leader who will be able to remain in power for a long time. Speaking about Khamenei’s successor has become a taboo subject in the Iranian media, and the assembly has done its utmost to keep its shortlist of candidates under wraps.
Popular candidates [as of early 2015] included Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, acting chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who now heads the Expediency Discernment Council, Sadeq Larijani, who the judiciary. Larijani is an ayatollah, but aged 53 he is considered young religious sage and inexperienced. Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi is of the far-right, and often puts off not only reformers but also conservatives closer to the center. Mojtaba Khamenei, the supreme leader's second son, is unlikely to garner support because he is only 45. And his religious education is incomplete.
The identity of Ayatollah Khamenei's potential successor remains uncertain, with the orientation of the Assembly of Experts — which selects the supreme leader—also unclear; although reformists performed strongly in the February 2016 Assembly of Experts election, the body subsequently chose a hardliner, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (who is also head of the Guardian Council), as its chairman. However, Ayatollah Jannati is too old to be a realistic prospect for supreme leader (he was 90), and so Ayatollah Khamenei's successor will almost certainly come from the next generation.
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (who is close to Ayatollah Khamenei and relatively young at 66); Sadegh Larijani, the judiciary chief; Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, Tehran's substitute Friday prayer leader; or Ebrahim Raeisi, whom Ayatollah Khamenei appointed to chair the powerful Imam Reza foundation in March 2016. Rowhani himself is a possibility.
Hardline 82-year old member of the assembly Ayatollah Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari has insisted that the question of Khamenei's successor has never been debated at the assembly. Mojtahed Shabestari categorically dismissed Raeisi and Khatami as candidates for replacing Khamenei, insisting that the question of the Supreme Leader's successor has never been debated at the AE.
Ahmad Khatami, 58, another cleric, is an influential member of the AE, and Tehran's Friday Prayer Imam, directly appointed by Khamenei. Hojjat ol-Eslam val-Moslemin Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, has always been a possible candidate thanks to his lineage. The 45- year-old reformist cleric currently meets two out of the three prerequisites to become the next Valiy -e Faqih (he cannot yet issue fatwas), but what will probably prevent him from becoming a serious contender is how he is viewed by hardliners.
Mojtaba Khamenei, 49, is the second-born child of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which already makes him a prime candidate to succeed his father. But an argument can be made that the powers that be might overlook the younger Khamenei to avoid having to deal with accusations of hereditary succession: the 1979 revolution ended monarchical hereditary succession.
Ebrahim Raeisi is currently the custodian of a religious financial empire in Iran's second largest city, Mashhad, in the northeast of the country. The 58-year-old Raeisi ran against President Hassan Rouhani, in 2013 presidential election, but lost, despite being supported by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and other conservative allies of the Supreme Leader. A former presidential candidate and current head of the powerful and well-funded Astan-e Qods Razavi charity foundation, Ebrahim Raisi, 57, is a popular figure among conservatives and hardliners. Ebrahim Raisi co-chaired the Tehran "Death Commission" during the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Beginning in the early 1990s, Raisi attended religious classes taught by Khamenei for a period of 14 years.
Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, a harsh critic of the West and the standard bearer of Iran's security hawks, drew on economic discontent to mount an unexpectedly strong challenge to pragmatist Hassan Rouhani in the 19 May 2017 presidential elections. A protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi has focused his campaign on the economy, visiting rural areas and small villages, promising the poor housing, jobs and more welfare benefits. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the Basij, a volunteer militia under the Guards' command, took steps to promote the candidacy of his main rival, hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi. Some analysts saw Raisi's presidential bid as a test run for a man who could be groomed to take over as Khamenei's successor.
Ebrahim Raisi succeeded another conservative cleric, Sadeq Amoli Larijani, as judiciary chief on 09 March 2019. Iranian media had predicted the move since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promoted Larijani to the role of head of Iran’s Expediency Council in December. On 10 March 2019 Iran appointed a new head of the judiciary — Ebrahim Raisi, the hardline cleric who is a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The appointment was seen as weakening the political influence of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Iranian reformists tried to soften some of their past criticisms of Raisi. It said those reformists, who have been struggling to maintain relevance in a conservative-dominated system, would see their political influence further diminished if they opened a new battle against Raisi, one it said they “certainly” would not win.
By appointing a conservative ally to head the influential Expediency Council, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to have made a move to strengthen the hard-line camp and weaken the moderates -- and also may have cleaned up his line of succession. Ebrahim Raisi succeeded another conservative cleric, Sadeq Amoli Larijani, as judiciary chief. Iranian media had predicted the move since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promoted Larijani to the role of head of Iran’s Expediency Council on 31 December 2018 Majlis (parliament), replacing Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who died that day.
Hailing from the powerful Larijani family, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani is well-placed to take over from Khamenei. Larijani's elder brothers also hold key posts in the Islamic republic. Ali Larijani is currently Iran's Majlis (parliament) speaker and Mohammad Javad Larijani heads the Judiciary's human rights council. The family is from Pardameh village in Larijan, which is about 70 kilometers from Amol in the Mazandaran province. Their father stayed in Najaf, Iraq for a long time, where the first three brothers were born in Najaf and two other brothers were born in Qom, Iran.
When appointing the head of the judicial system, Khamenei described Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani as the “virtuous young cleric” who had been inspired by the most prominent figures in the religious seminary in Qom. Sadeq Amoli-Larijani is accused of committing crimes against humanity, especially his ratification of death sentences against political prisoners, minors and women, after closed trials that lack the minimum fair trial conditions, according to human rights organizations. He is also accused of opening 63 secret accounts to collect all financial guarantees from those being prosecuted, which are about 40 million citizens. These accounts reportedly make him an estimated profit of about 300 million dollars.
When Mohammad Khatami purged the country's intelligence ministries during the first term of his presidency (1997-2001), the judiciary established its own intelligence service, which is only accountable to Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani (the head of the judiciary since 2009) and the supreme leader. Regarding judicial corruption, Payvand News reported on 9 December 2010 that: "Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani has said it is not fair to say that all judges are corrupt. Larijani made the remarks on Wednesday in response to an MP, who recently said that all judges receive bribes. We do not deny the existence of corruption... because humans are fallible, but it is not fair to say all judges are corrupt and that lawmaker should present his evidence to prove his claims, he added… We know that there are some problems in the judicial system, but the Judiciary and the administration should not be undermined," he stated.‘
In July 2011 the head of Iran‘s judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, publicly endorsed the IRGC‘s greater influence in the political sphere, saying that it is more than a military force. The IRGC was thought to be actively involved in the postelection crackdown, reportedly organizing attacks on university students, engaging in violence against peaceful protesters, and torturing prisoners. On 16 May 2016, the Tasnim news agency quoted Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani as saying the Bahai Faith “is a threat to Iran’s national security” and that relatives of senior clerics who socialized with Bahais “damage the norms.”
Persons and entities designated January 12, 2018 following repression of December 2017-January 2018 protests included Judiciary head Sadeq Amoli Larijani (the highest-ranking Iranian official sanctioned by the United States). On 12 January 2018, the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 14 individuals and entities in connection with serious human rights abuses and censorship in Iran, and support to designated Iranian weapons proliferators. "OFAC designated Sadegh Amoli Larijani pursuant to E.O. 13553 for being an official of the Government of Iran who is responsible for or complicit in, or responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, the commission of serious human rights abuses against persons in Iran or Iranian citizens or residents. As head of Iran's Judiciary, Sadegh Amoli Larijani has administrative oversight over the carrying out of sentences in contravention of Iran's international obligations, including the execution of individuals who were juveniles at the time of their crime and the torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran, including amputations."
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