Reasons Why Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran Is an Autocrat but He Is Not as Bad as Western Nations Think He Is
What is the Objective of This Article?
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has been in power since 1981. I use 1981 as the starting point because that is when he was President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He served in that position until 1989 when he was selected to take the place of Ayatollah Khomeini who died of a heart attack. However, the purpose of this article is to explain and analyze the reasons why Khamenei is an autocrat and to point out that he is not as bad as Western countries make him out to be. Much has changed since this essay was first written but attempts are being made to analyze the points effectively so that the essay looks at both sides of the issue. Readers can now look at this article as a sort of pros and cons list about a man that is misunderstood by the Western nations of the world.
A photo of the Supreme Leader of Iran
Supreme Leader Khamenei's Rise to Power
Khamenei was born in 1939. He started to be politically active in 1962 when he began to protest against the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Khamenei like many conservatives was against the Shah’s White Revolution. His rise to power was pretty rapid, especially when the protest against the monarchy escalated. In 1977, just one year before the start of the Iranian Revolution, Khamenei formed the Combatant Clerics Association. This association later became known as the Islamic Republic Party. Khamenei would serve as Secretary-General of this party from 1980 through 1987. However, in June 1981, he was injured by a bomb that had been placed in a tape recorder during a press conference. What if he had not been president? It seems likely that given the nature of Iran’s theocracy, a conservative Ayatollah more than likely would have won the country’s first presidential election after the revolution. What follows below is the first reason why Khamenei is an autocrat.
He was going to crack down on protesters in 2009
In June 2009, he warned protestors that they must stop their actions or consequences would result. This is a classic case of a leader acting like an autocrat. In a country where you basically have little freedom to protest, Khamenei shows that he tolerates little opposition. These protests came during the presidential elections that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win reelection. The two of them were said to be in a struggle and in a tense situation. I have previously written about the importance of the Iran Nuclear Deal which may or may not survive under President Trump. But let’s return to the main argument of this essay which is to prove why Khamenei is an autocrat.
Khamenei limits the public's freedom significantly
Another reason why he is an autocrat is because he can close down any newspaper or magazine that is too critical of the regime. He can order people to be whipped for traveling in public with a woman that is not a family member. Women in Iran are forced to wear a veil called a chador every time they travel outdoors. Another reason why Khamenei is autocrat is because he can disqualify anyone that he deems unfit to run for public office. The president in Iran is really just a figurehead and it is Khamenei who holds most of the power. Iran is not democratic as in the way that we are used to seeing in the United States and other Western nations. But of course, it is a Middle Eastern country that really has no concept of democracy. Here is yet another reason why Khamenei shows that he acts like an autocrat. It is because of what he said in his Inaugural Address as president in 1981. He “vowed to stamp out deviation, liberalism, and American-influenced leftists,” (Unknown 2009).
The #1 reason why Khamenei is an autocrat: He has Kept the Death Sentence on Author Salman Rushdie
Khamenei is an autocrat mostly because he is in favor of keeping the death sentence on author Salman Rushdie active. This is perhaps the biggest reason why he has been such a controversial leader. Rushdie who wrote the book called The Satanic Verses was thought to have insulted Islam and so before Khomeni died, he issued a fatwa or a religious ruling that stated that Muslims everywhere had a duty to kill Rushdie. This shows that Khamenei is relentless in his pursuit of Rushdie, a man who did nothing except to write a book! There is no reason that Rushdie should be blamed for anything. It is the fault of Khamenei and the conservative establishment that Iran is in the shape that it is in, a statement that is accurate but Western interference in Iran’s internal affairs has also contributed to the situation in Iran so the blame must be put on both sides. The international reputation of Iran is significantly worse than 40 years ago. However, Khamenei just makes it worse by his hawkish policies. Khamenei said that the death sentence put on Rushdie cannot ever be reversed. However, Khamenei also is not as bad of a leader as Western countries make him out to be. Some people may wonder if this is really possible. It is possible because there are various degrees of an autocratic leader or statesman. Examples of autocratic leaders include Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Islam Karimov (1938-2016), and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a man that is considered by many Western authors, policy experts and analysts to have been a brutal tyrant but in reality, he was much more of a benign kind of leader in comparison to the man that succeeded him. The next part of this article attempts to explain and analyze the other side of this man who has been in charge of basically ruling Iran since 1989.
Another reason why Khamene is such a bad leader: banning women from riding bicycles
Reasons Why Mr. Khamenei Should Be Respected
Ayatollah Khamenei is a very clever person contrary to what Western nations may believe. He is not likely to make decisions based on impulse or lack of self-control. For example, he is not likely to take steps to start an armed conflict with Israel, especially a conflict that would involve the use of nuclear weapons. Iranians are a highly clever and sophisticated population that have been through invasions, wars, and occupation. They know that any attempt to start such a conflict with Israel would lead to disaster. Khamenei is not a stupid person even if his tactics are harsh.
Khamenei is a man that is seen as a leader that is careful and precise even if his word or ruling is absolute. He is also a man that loves poetry. Even though he opposed the Shah of Iran, Khamenei has been able to keep the country of Iran together after a very long and costly war with Iraq that lasted from 1980 to 1988. Though Iran is facing problems with inflation and its economy, Iran has not been affected by warfare like Afghanistan or Syria has been at least since 1988.
Documentary About Ali Khamenei by the BBC
Final Thoughts About Supreme Leader Khamenei as a Leader
Khamenei has been in power as Supreme Leader since 1989. There have been questions surrounding his health when he underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2014. Adding to this controversy is the fact that there has been this sort of power struggle between two groups. The first group of people are the modernists, reformists, and liberals who want to open up Iran and make it more democratic. The other group of people are the conservatives that want to keep Iran as a theocracy and oppose any kind of dialogue with Western countries. Although it is understandable why Iran is reluctant to trust the West. It is time for the Western nations of the world to realize that they too have been responsible for sowing the seeds of resentment and discontent in the Middle East. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is an autocratic leader but he is also a person who is largely misunderstood by Western countries and he is particularly misunderstood by the United States. Iran may be a country that has corruption and social problems but the United States isn’t free of problems either. Mr. Khamenei went to Twitter as reported by Vox to address the Muslim ban proposed by US President Donald Trump and actually thanked him for it. While Khamenei may have been trying to mock Trump, he proved that he can act like a leader when he addressed the issue with gratitude, saying, “We appreciate Trump! Because he largely did the job for us in revealing true face of America," (Aleem 2017). Mr. Khamenei’s point is certainly valid because America has been at a clash with the Islamic world since especially 1979 and Donald Trump trying to impose a Muslim ban which does nothing to increase US security only makes the US look like an international bully. Khamenei also addressed the issue of corruption in the US government. Khamenei is an autocratic leader but he is certainly not the world’s worst one.
At least Khamenei is smart and clever enough to know that US government officials cannot be trusted. Does anyone remember what happened in 1953? Also, with the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Adviser (Trump's third one), we can expect more hostile rhetoric to come from the US government. Iran is a proud nation with thousands of years of history and it does not deserve to be treated with such distrust. Ayatollah Khamenei may not be perfect but at least he is very well aware of the flaws of US foreign policy.
Aleem, Zeeshan. 2017. Vox. February 7. Accessed March 13, 2018. https://www.vox.com/world/2017/2/7/14532924/ayatollah-iran-thank-trump-twitter.
Unknown. 2009. BBC News. June 17. Accessed January 31, 2017. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3018932.stm.
Ayatollah Khamenei Responds to Donald Trump
© 2017 Ara Vahanian