ANALYSIS: What if Mesbah-Yazdi succeeds Khamenei as Iran’s Supreme Leader

Tony Duheaume
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In line to succeed Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is one ultra-conservative cleric, who is constantly in and out of favour with his peers. If this were to happen, it would be the worst kind of nightmare scenario for both the West and the Middle East.

The man in question, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, is one of the most radical figures in the Iranian religious establishment, noted for his radical stance concerning the “absolute rule of the jurisprudent” (Velayat-e Motlaq-e Faqih), his belief is that the people should have no voting rights whatsoever, not even the fake system of mock democracy currently in place in Iran.

He also believes, the people should be entirely beholden to the Supreme Leader, who being “God’s representative on earth”, cannot be contradicted and has the say over everything until the Mahdi returns to rule the earth.

Mesbah-Yazdi is an ultraorthodox radical, who heads various religious institutes, including the Hojjatiyeh Association, an ultra-fundamentalist sect, and the Haghani School, a radical school of thought based in Qom.

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Due to him being the head of the Haghani seminary, Mesbah-Yazdi has managed to gain great influence in the right places. Many of those taught at the school, hold their former mentor in high esteem, and with scores of his former pupils now serving in high-profile positions within the regime, many connected to the Ministry of Intelligence, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Basij militia, and also holding various other prestigious government posts, Mesbah-Yazdi holds great sway.

Mesbah-Yazdi was at one time reported to be the highest-ranking member of the secretive Hojjatiyeh Society, a group whose teachings shaped his radical views, which he later taught at his religious seminars.

The Hojjatiyeh promote the hastening of the return of the Hidden Imam, as they adhere to the belief that Muhammad al-Mahdi, whose followers believe to be the son of Hasan al-Askari; the Eleventh Imam, was the rightful successor to his father, and they claim him to be the Twelfth Imam.

Government and military positions

But even if it isn’t Mesbah-Yazdi himself taking over as Supreme Leader, there are plenty of Mesbah-Yazdi’s students within the Iranian regime who share his views, and if they didn’t actually take the prime position itself, many of them are already in governmental and military positions that give them great influence in shaping Iranian policy.

Since the Ministry of Intelligence was officially formed in 1984, a whole list of intelligence ministers, including: Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri, one-time first Minister of Intelligence, Ali Younesi, a top assistant to Rouhani and one-time head of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran, Gholem-Hossein Mohseni Ezhei, head of the Special Court for Clergy, and Heydar Moslehi, Iranian Intelligence Minister, were all Haghani graduates.

Between the Hojjatiyeh Association and the Haghani School, both have produced some very radical regime men, implicated in various heinous crimes.

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One notable Hojjatiyeh student was Ali Akbar Parvaresh, who was implicated in the terror bombing of the Jewish centre in Argentina in 1984, and at the time of the infamous prison massacres during the 1980s, in which 30,000 detainees died, Haghani graduates Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Ebrahim Raesi and Ali Mobasheri were said to have played key roles.

As far as massacres are concerned, Mezbah-Yazdi certainly had the stomach for them, as he was said to have been one of the main architects behind Iran’s infamous “chain murders”, a series of assassinations that took place during the 1980s and early 1990s, when dissidents living both in Iran and abroad, were hunted down and murdered.

But Mesbah-Yazdi is also a man filled with a fanatical hatred for all non-Shiites, as according to his views on Jews and Zionists, they are involved in plots and incitement against Iran, and they are out to destroy Islam. To understand the voracity of his views, they were fully voiced by his one-time student Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, through his constant anti-Semitic outbursts during his presidency, which culminated in threats to wipe Israel off the map.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, center, and Mesbah Yazdi, right, attend the fourth assembly in Tehran on March 8, 2016. (AP)
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, center, and Mesbah Yazdi, right, attend the fourth assembly in Tehran on March 8, 2016. (AP)

Christianity in Iran

There was also Mesbah-Yazdi’s attacks on the growth of Christianity in Iran, when he made a pronouncement that Christianity was spreading rapidly, and he suggested a crackdown to stem it. As a result of his remarks, a campaign of intimidation took place, and throughout Iran, newly-converted Christians were caught up in a wave of arrests and torture to deter others from converting.

Those adhering to Velayat-e Motlaq-e Faqih, consider the Supreme Leader to be divine and indisputable, and as such, does not have to have to seek the approval of any of elected earthly institution for any of his actions.

Mesbah-Yazdi has a lot of influence within the hierarchy of the regime, he is a member of the Assembly of Experts, the leader of the hard-line Endurance Front political group, which despises any form of reformist policy, and as such, has doggedly been challenging many of Rouhani’s policies.

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Mesbah-Yazdi also despises the West in all its forms, in his eyes the US is out to destroy Islamic values, and is trying to abolish Islamic influence wherever it is found, as part of a strategy to achieve world domination.

Any signs of the West wanting to improve relations with Iran, were summed up in Yazdi’s views in a sermon at Tehran University, when he espoused: “We should know that 1,400 years ago, the Koran said that the enemies of Islam will always fight while chanting peace-seeking slogans”.

Due to his ultra-conservative views, he has gained the nickname “Professor Crocodile”, and has always advocated total isolation from the West, opposing any form of dialogue.

He wants to see the dissolution of the Islamic Republic in its present form, having it replaced with a pure Islamic system, because according to Mesbah-Yazdi, democracy, and all forms of freedom and human rights, have no place in Islamic teaching.

The many interventions

Such is Mesbah-Yazdi’s influence among the elite military forces, he is the man that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei turns to when the regime has its back to the wall, in the way that it did during the 2009 political crises.

This crisis was brought about by accusations of vote rigging, after Ahmadinejad’s much disputed victory over moderate contender Mir Hossein Mousavi, which concluded in widespread street protests across Iran.

But it was after Ahmadinejad was pronounced the winner on June 12, protests brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets, angered by vote rigging and years of economic hardship. As the protests took hold, Khamenei turned to Mesbah-Yazdi for help, due to Yazdi holding great sway among the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij volunteer paramilitary force.

Following this, with Khamenei declaring the protests illegal, and with Yazdi’s views that the “country-wide menace must be controlled like a virus”, the Basij entered the streets, killing at least 110 demonstrators and injuring 100s of others.

Then in 2011, during his second term, Ahmadinejad fell out with the Supreme Leader, after Khamenei stepped in over the appointment of a cabinet minister, telling Ahmadinejad to reinstate a candidate he favoured or resign.

Then as the feud became heated, it became obvious that Ahmadinejad had broken an unwritten law, which requires all officials to abide by the Supreme Leader at all times without showing any form of opposition.

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During the 2012 parliamentary elections, Mesbah-Yazdi ignored pleas from some of the country’s most influential clerics to form a united conservative political front, and adhering to his own ultra-conservative ideals, he chose to ignore them, and ran his own candidates.

Then during the 2013 presidential election, Mesbah-Yazdi was pressured by hard-line clerics to withdraw his support for his preferred candidate, Kamran Bagheri-Lankarani, but he when Yazdi refused, Lankarani declined his candidacy in favour of Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

Being a hard-line conservative, fiercely loyal to Khamenei, Jalili believes strongly in Iran’s nuclear program and sovereign rights, and was said to have been a chief architect of the 2009 crackdown on dissidents. So, with Lankarani stepping down, Mesbah-Yazdi officially endorsed Saeed Jalili as his preferred candidate, who at least had hard-line credentials he espoused to.

In recent years, Mesbah-Yazdi has kept his head down, but even though some suggest that he has been side-lined from the political scene by those who despise his radical agenda, in Iranian politics, when the leadership feels embattled, with the US and others seeming to be seeking regime change, the toughest cleric is brought to the forefront to aid in the fight back.

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