The Next Supreme Leader

The Next Supreme Leader: Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Alireza Nader
David E. Thaler
S. R. Bohandy
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 124
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  • Book Info
    The Next Supreme Leader
    Book Description:

    As the commander in chief and highest political authority in Iran, the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has played a critical role in the direction of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This monograph identifies three key factors that will shape succession of the next Supreme Leader and outlines five alternative scenarios for the post-Khamenei era. It situates all of this within the context of the June 2009 election.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-5199-8
    Subjects: Political Science, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  4. Figures (pp. ix-x)
  5. Summary (pp. xi-xx)
  6. Acknowledgments (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. Abbreviations (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  8. CHAPTER ONE Introduction (pp. 1-10)

    The tumultuous 2009 presidential election shattered Iran’s political equilibrium and riveted the international community. Only hours after the polls closed, the Interior Ministry announced that the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had won by a landslide, with 63 percent of the vote.¹ Upon hearing the news, opposition groups alleged fraud, and millions of Iranians poured into the streets in protest. Not since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 had such massive demonstrations by people from all sectors of society swept across the nation. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Basij militia violently cracked down on the uprisings, killing dozens and arresting thousands...

  9. CHAPTER TWO Factor 1: The Factional Balance of Power (pp. 11-20)

    Factionalism has been a fixture of Iran’s political system since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Over the ensuing three decades, various factions across the political spectrum have frequently taken advantage of Iran’s relatively weak elected institutions to shape major policies. Indeed, factionalism has generally been more important than constitutional process in decisionmaking. While Khomeini was able to keep factionalism largely in check by providing a point of commonality that united the different factions, this has not been the case since Khamenei took power in 1989. Factional competition has grown markedly in both intensity and influence since that time and has...

  10. CHAPTER THREE Factor 2: The Prevailing View of Velayat-e Faghih (pp. 21-30)

    Velayat-e faghihhas served as the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran for over three decades. It is the source from which the Supreme Leader derives legitimacy for his simultaneous political and religious authority over the country. The roots ofvelayat-e faghihlie in Shi’a Islam. For much of Shi’a Iran’s history,¹velayat-e faghihjustified the clergy’s temporal guardianship of a narrow section of the population: the weak, orphaned, and infirm—individuals considered to be vulnerable members of society, unprotected by the state. Under this doctrine, a ranking member of the clergy, usually amarja-e taghlid(source of emulation),...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR Factor 3: Khamenei’s Personal Network (pp. 31-44)

    Khamenei has taken advantage of Iran’s informal and often inchoate political system to cement his personal power and authority at the expense of thenezam’s various decisionmaking bodies. He has accomplished this by cultivating a personal network loyal to him instead of to Iran’s elected institutions. In return for loyalty, its members receive political and financial gains. This personal network serves as his “eyes and ears” and works in tandem with—or even in opposition to—Iran’s three official branches of government. It allows him to definitively shape Iran’s domestic and foreign policies despite the opposition of various factions and...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Five Scenarios for Succession of the Supreme Leader in the Near Term (pp. 45-84)

    The future of the institution of the Supreme Leader after Khamenei will depend on the three factors now exerting the strongest effect on the direction of thenezam: the balance of factional power, the prevailing view ofvelayat-e faghih, and the degree of influence of Khamenei’s personal network. Analysts and policymakers can observe how each of these three factors develops individually, as well as configurations and reconfigurations of the three over time, as a means of determining the relative likelihood that any one of a number of scenarios will come to pass as succession approaches.

    Each key factor can be...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Succession of the Supreme Leader in the Longer Term (pp. 85-92)

    Although the most likely shorter-term outlook for the next Supreme Leader seems relatively clear, succession may very well not take place within the next few years. Ali Khamenei is 71 years old.¹ Shi’a ayatollahs tend to have a long average life span that extends into their 80s or 90s; Khamenei is relatively young by comparison. While he is rumored to have health problems, the current Supreme Leader could live a long life yet and could remain in his position for quite some time. Uncertainty about the succession increases exponentially the further into the future one looks. For one thing, the...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Concluding Remarks (pp. 93-94)

    In this report, we have sought to provide analysts with a solid, welldefined set of factors, indicators, and possible end states for succession to the current Supreme Leader that will help them interpret trends regarding the future of the Islamic Republic. The five scenarios and the trajectories that lead to them are based on a historical evaluation of three key factors that we believe will determine the nature of the next Supreme Leader or even the possibility that the position may be abolished. While it will remain impossible to predict the exact direction Iran will take after Khamenei’s passing, the...

  15. Bibliography (pp. 95-99)


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