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IRAN: Iran after Khamenei, Should Khamenei die

Who'll be in the chair, when he's in the frame? Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty


Iran is among the contenders for worst government response to COVID-19, as Dexter Filkins lays bare in the New Yorker.

  • Doctors were denied protective gear and ordered to hush up the outbreak to maintain calm. Journalists couldn't touch the story. Direct flights continued from Wuhan so as not to anger China.
  • There were secret mass graves, deadly prison riots and wild claims from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of an American bioweapon.
  • “We were burying three to four to five times as many people as the ministry of health was reporting,” a doctor told Filkins.

The big picture: Before the virus, there was the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet amid escalation with the U.S., and the brutal suppression of mass protests. Discontent with the regime is palpable.

Reporting from Iran, Filkins explores the vulnerabilities of the regime and what might happen when Khamenei, 81, dies.

  • Flashback: Khamenei took power in 1989 as something of a dark horse, and he empowered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to strengthen his hold on power.
  • Now, "Khamenei knows that without the I.R.G.C. he’d be out of a job in twenty-four hours," Abbas Milani of Stanford tells Filkins.

What to watch: Should Khamenei die, the task of anointing a successor will fall to an aging Assembly of Experts.

  • The supreme leader might try to position his son, Mojtaba, to take over. Iran's chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi, is also a contender.
  • But the IRGC could also assume even more control, while perhaps retaining a veneer of clerical authority.


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