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Who Is Ali Khamenei?

The Worldview of Iran’s Supreme Leader

You can check out anytime you like: Khamenei visits an American hostage, 1980. Abbas / Magnum Photos

In June, Hassan Rouhani was elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rouhani ran as a reform candidate, and many have interpreted his victory as a harbinger of a possible liberalization or rationalization of Iranian domestic and foreign policy. But the dominant figure in Iranian politics is not the president but rather the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian constitution endows the supreme leader with tremendous authority over all major state institutions, and Khamenei, who has held the post since 1989, has found many other ways to further increase his influence. Formally or not, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government all operate under his absolute sovereignty; Khamenei is Iran’s head of state, commander in chief, and top ideologue. His views are what will ultimately shape Iranian policy, and so it is worth exploring them in detail.

Khamenei was born in the northeastern Iranian city of

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