Khomeini’s grandson tests Iran’s political waters

As fractious politi­cal elites prepare for February 25, 2016, there is growing speculation that Hassan Khomeini will run for a seat on 82-member assembly.

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei next to Hassan Khomeini (R), in Tehran, on June 4, 2015.

2015/10/16 Issue: 27 Page: 15

The Arab Weekly
Ali Alfoneh

Washington - As Iran’s fractious politi­cal elites prepare for the February 25, 2016, elec­tions for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that selects the supreme leader, there is growing speculation that Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Is­lamic Republic, will run for a seat on the 82-member assembly.

If he is successful, that is being seen in some quarters as a precursor to running for supreme leader, the position his grandfather, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, created when the Islamic revolution overthrew the monarchy in 1979.

The younger Khomeini gave cre­dence to the speculation when he addressed reformist political activ­ists visiting his grandfather’s mau­soleum outside Tehran on August 28th.

“‘I’m not saying you should not accept any responsibility in the Is­lamic Republic. If necessary, do an­ything… but if there are others, let them do the job’,” Hassan Khomei­ni quoted his grandfather as telling his father.

“If one day it’s necessary for me to do something, it would be wrong of me not to take the responsibil­ity upon my shoulders,” Hassan Khomeini said.

In the Iranian media, Hassan Khomeini’s statements were wide­ly interpreted as showing his readi­ness to run for the assembly, an­swering the call of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who upon declaring his own candidacy for the assembly in August, invited “all those who consider themselves righteous” to join the race.

Against this backdrop, the Iran Labour News Agency proclaimed on August 4th that the triumvirate of Hassan Khomeini, Rafsanjani and President Hassan Rohani is the most dynamic force in Iranian poli­tics.

Clearly, Rafsanjani and Rohani supporters are already imagining a new Khomeini to succeed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who was elected after Ruhollah Khomeini’s death in 1989.

However, as he enters the fierce arena of Iranian politics, Hassan Khomeini, 42, would be wise to study the fate of his father, Ahmad, who was offered a similar proposi­tion by Rafsanjani but perished un­der mysterious circumstances aged 49.

He died suddenly on March 16, 1995, allegedly of a heart attack. But Saeed Emami, deputy head of the Intelligence Ministry who was arrested as the main culprit in the systematic elimination of dissident Iranian intellectuals in the 1990s, confessed he had assassinated Ah­mad Khomeini. Ahmad’s impor­tance was not so much in his talent for politics as in his position as his father’s gatekeeper: No one could access the guiding light of the revo­lution without his permission.

Amid the revolutionary turmoil of 1979, Rafsanjani soon realised Ahmad Khomeini’s importance and began tempting him with positions such as general secretary of the Is­lamic Republican Party, which Raf­sanjani directed.

Rafsanjani even persuaded Ah­mad to run for president against the secular Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the main candidate. On both occa­sions Ruhollah Khomeini expressly forbade his son to accept political or executive responsibilities.

The elder Khomeini believed that so long as his clan kept free of such involvement, it would be above factional disputes and un­likely to be held responsible for the failure of the executive branch in delivering on promises made to the Iranian people.

Accepting executive responsibil­ity would mean being asked why God’s “Republic on Earth” has unemployment, a rickety public health service and, long after the 1980-88 war with Iraq, meat ra­tioning.

Rafsanjani’s scheme seems to have worked. Throughout the 1980s Ahmad Khomeini helped him systematically destroy his political rivals by simply denying them access to his ageing father.

In return, Rafsanjani may well have promised Ahmad the man­tle of leadership after the revolu­tionary patriarch died. But when it came to the crunch, Rafsanjani supported the seemingly weaker Ali Khamenei as successor in 1989.

To the world at large, Ahmad Khomeini welcomed Khamenei’s leadership but he was plotting re­venge.

After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Rafsan­jani was in daily contact with Wash­ington seeking to extract conces­sions in return for Iran’s neutrality in the war. Ahmad Khomeini taped those conversations and produced them at a Supreme National Secu­rity Council meeting as proof Raf­sanjani was “an American agent”.

There was even a report that a group of Ahmad Khomeini loyalists within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized control of a missile battery in southern Iran seeking to target US military forces in Saudi Arabia to start a war that could help Khomeini’s son seize power in Tehran. The plot was foiled by Mohsen Rezaei, then the IRGC commander.

Ahmad disclosed that his father had been against continuing the war with Iraq after Iranians lib­erated the south-western city of Khorramshahr in 1982. The war, he implied, only continued because Rafsanjani and others wanted to consolidate their power.

A few days before his mysteri­ous death, Ahmad Khomeini ac­cused the regime of betraying the ideals of his revered father. Hassan Khomeini may well enjoy Rafsanja­ni’s support in running for the As­sembly of Experts but his father’s fate no doubt weighs heavily on his mind.

Ali Alfoneh is a non-resident senior fellow at Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

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