Mysterious Heir: Mojtaba Khamenei’s Quiet Rise To Power Following President’s Death

 May 23, 2024

Iran faces a profound leadership reassessment after the unexpected death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the sudden demise of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has heightened speculations regarding succession and future leadership paradigms in the country.

At the center of the political orbit stands Mojtaba Khamenei, son of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Although he does not hold any official role, Mojtaba has long been a key behind-the-scenes player, leveraging his deep ties within Iran’s intelligence and security establishments.

It is widely believed among political analysts like Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, that Mojtaba prefers to wield power from the shadows rather than seeking a public office. “Mojtaba and the network around him have been running the show over the past two decades,” said Hamidreza Azizi.

Many interpreted Ebrahim Raisi's presidency as a temporary setup, facilitating the control of powerful figures within Iran—a role Mojtaba has been speculated to continue and expand.

The Shadow Role of Mojtaba Khamenei

Following President Raisi's death, Mohammad Mokhber was quick to be installed as the acting president. His appointment highlights Mojtaba’s important, yet unofficial, influence in determining key political roles within the country.

Moreover, the U.S. has previously imposed sanctions on Mojtaba Khamenei due to his significant role in shaping domestic and regional policies, primarily through his connections with Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia.

The public's dissatisfaction with the current regime became glaringly apparent during the nationwide protests following Mahsa Amini's death in police custody. Across these protests, Mojtaba’s involvement in Iranian politics has been particularly scrutinized and criticized.

The Speculation About Supreme Leadership

Despite rumors, experts argue that Mojtaba Khamenei's ascending to Supreme Leader is unlikely due to his lack of theological stature and the principles within Islam that oppose hereditary succession.

Mehdi Khalaji, a theologian and author, dismisses the notion of Mojtaba as the next supreme leader. “The idea that Mojtaba’s ambition is to be the next supreme leader is a total myth,” Khalaji said.

The Quiet Power Behind the Throne

According to Hamidreza Azizi, finding a successor for Raisi who mirrors his characteristics is now a significant task facing the senior Khamenei. This selection is critical as it would facilitate Mojtaba’s continued influence from a strategic yet unrecognized position within the government’s hierarchy.

Doing so, Azizi further elaborates, “would set the scene where Mojtaba could preserve and even expand his power while keeping his shadow role out of public scrutiny.” Mehdi Khalaji also adds, “Based on historical experience, I don’t think Khamenei would indicate anyone, even his son, as successor." This sentiment underscores the complex, perhaps opaque nature of political succession in Iran, further complicating Mojtaba’s path.

In sum, Mojtaba Khamenei’s future role appears pivotal yet unofficial as Iran navigates through its recent political upheaval and looks ahead to the presidential elections. Despite his unequivocal influence, his public role remains minimal, potentially preserving his power while avoiding the limelight and direct scrutiny.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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