Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 25, 2019

And the winner is (or will be)…

Without transparency, knowing everything that's going on in Iran is impossible.

Clues to the identity of Iran’s next supreme leader in the back alleys of a holy city
The upcoming transition could remake Iran, the world’s only Shiite theocracy, and alter the geopolitics of the Middle East, where Iran has been projecting its influence in places such as Syria and Iraq.

But the inner workings of Iran’s Islamic system — which is based on a contested Shiite doctrine known as wilayat al-faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist” — is notoriously opaque. And efforts to determine the next steps have become somewhat of a parlor game in both the Iranian capital Tehran and in Najaf. The names being bandied about to succeed the supreme leader include those of the chief of the judiciary, the head of a powerful advisory council and Khamenei’s own son.

The clergy in Najaf, the primary center of Shiite theology in the world, are for the most part averse to the idea of a supreme religious and political authority and operate independently of the clerical establishment in Iran…

“Khamenei now is a very strong leader,” said Sheikh Khaled al-Baghdadi, a Najaf cleric clad in a white turban and loose brown robe… Baghdadi is among those who doubt the theological legitimacy of the supreme leader position but acknowledges that Khamenei has made effective use of the role…

But even as Khamenei has consolidated power — promoting allies and empowering the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is tasked with safeguarding the Islamic system — Iran is facing an uncertain period as its economy falters and tensions with the United States rise. At home, rampant corruption and soaring inflation have stunted economic growth and angered ordinary Iranians. Abroad, Iran is confronting a U.S. pressure campaign that seeks to isolate the Islamic Republic…

Such instability, experts say, could undermine an otherwise smooth succession. And that has many Iranians ill at ease…

According to Iran’s constitution, if Khamenei dies or is otherwise incapacitated, a leadership council would be formed to lead for an interim period. A separate body, known as the Assembly of Experts, is responsible for naming a successor…

“The next leader should at least have experience leading the judicial, executive or legislative branch,” said Mohsen Kadivar, a former cleric and Iranian political dissident who teaches Islamic studies at Duke University.

But because the stakes are so high, analysts say, it is likely that the formal process will be bypassed in favor of more covert negotiations. The Revolutionary Guard in particular will hold powerful sway over the process, experts say.

“The person chosen by Khamenei will be announced . . . after the candidate receives approval from Revolutionary Guard commanders,” Kadivar said.

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