The Supreme Leader of Iran (Persian: رهبر معظم ایران, romanized: rahbar-e mo’azzam-e irān), also referred to as Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution (رهبر معظم انقلاب اسلامی, rahbar-e mo’azzam-e enqelāb-e eslāmi), but officially called the Supreme Leadership Authority (مقام معظم رهبری, maqām mo’azzam rahbari), is the head of state and the highest political and religious authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The armed forces, judiciary, state television, and other key government organisations such as Guardian Council and Expediency Discernment Council are subject to the Supreme Leader. The current lifetime officeholder, Ali Khamenei, has issued decrees and made the final decisions on the economy, the environment, foreign policy, education, national planning, and other aspects of governance in Iran. Khamenei also makes the final decisions on the amount of transparency in elections, and has dismissed and reinstated presidential cabinet appointees.
The Supreme Leader directly chooses the ministers of Defense, Interior, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs, as well as certain other ministers, such as the Education, Culture and Science Minister. Iran’s regional policy is directly controlled by the office of the Supreme Leader with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs‘ task limited to protocol and ceremonial occasions. All of Iran’s ambassadors to Arab countries, for example, are chosen by the Quds Force, which directly reports to the Supreme Leader.
The office was established by the Constitution of Iran in 1979, pursuant to the concept of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. According to the Constitution, the powers of government in the Islamic Republic of Iran are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the Supreme Leader. The style “Supreme Leader” (Persian: رهبر معظم, romanized: rahbar-e mo’azzam) is commonly used as a sign of respect – although the Constitution simply designates them as “Leader” (رهبر, rahbar).
The Supreme Leader ranks above the President of Iran and personally appoints the heads of the military, the government, and the judiciary. Originally the constitution required the Supreme Leader to be Marja’-e taqlid, the highest-ranking cleric in the religious laws of UsuliTwelverShia Islam. In 1989, however, the constitution was amended and simply asked for Islamic “scholarship”, thus the Supreme Leader could be a lower-ranking cleric.
In its history, the Islamic Republic of Iran only has had two Supreme Leaders: Ruhollah Khomeini, who held the position from 1979 until his death in 1989 and Ali Khamenei, who has held the position since Khomeini’s death.
In theory, the Supreme Leader is elected by the Assembly of Experts. However, all candidates for membership at the Assembly of Experts (including the President and the Majlis (parliament)) must have their candidacy approved by the Guardian Council, whose members in turn, are half appointed unilaterally by the Supreme Leader and half subject to confirmation by the Majlis after being appointed by the head of the Iranian judiciary, who is himself appointed by the Supreme Leader. Thereby, the Assembly has never questioned the Supreme Leader. There have been cases where incumbent Ali Khamenei publicly criticized members of the Assembly, resulting in their arrest and subsequent removal. There also have been cases where the Guardian Council repealed its ban on particular people after being directed to do so by Khamenei. The Supreme Leader is legally considered “inviolable”, with Iranians being routinely punished for questioning or insulting him.
The Supreme Leader of Iran is elected by the Assembly of Experts (مجلس خبرگان, Majles-e Khobregan), which is also the only government body in charge of choosing and dismissing Supreme Leaders of Iran.
He oversees, appoints (or inaugurates) and can dismiss the following offices:
- Inaugurates the President and may also together with a two-thirds majority of the Parliament impeach him.
- The Chief Justice of Iran (Head of the Judiciary Branch (Persian: قوه قضائیه) usually a member of the Assembly of Experts) for a term of 8 years,
- the members of the Expediency Discernment Council for a term of 5 years.
- the members of Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.
- 6 of the 12 members of the Guardian Council from among the members of the Assembly of Experts, the other 6 are chosen by the Parliament out of Islamic jurist candidates nominated by the Chief Justice of Iran who is in turn appointed by the Supreme Leader.
- ministers of defense, intelligence, foreign affairs, interior and science.
- two personal representatives to the Supreme National Security Council.
- Can delegate representatives to all branches of government. Ali Khamenei has currently around 2000 representatives.
- the head of the National Radio and Television Institution IRIB for a term of 8 years
- the head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs
- the Imams of the Friday Prayer of each Province Capital (with the advice of all the Marja’) for a lifetime
- Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
- the Commander of the Law Enforcement Force
- the Heads of the Counter Intelligence Units
- the Heads of the Intelligence Units
- approves elected members of the Assembly of Experts.
The Supreme Leader does not receive a salary.