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Iran’s Next Supreme Leader

The Islamic Republic After Khamenei

Superdelegates: the Assembly of Experts meeting in Tehran, March 2012. RAHEB HOMAVANDI / REUTERS

On July 17, 2016, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, turned 77. Rumors that he suffers from cancer have circulated for over a decade, and in 2014, the state-run news agency published photos of him recovering from prostate surgery. Although Khamenei’s prognosis remains closely guarded, the Iranian government is evidently treating his succession with urgency. In December 2015, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and a kingmaker, broached the usually taboo subject when he publicly admitted that a council within the Assembly of Experts, the body that selects the supreme leader, was already vetting potential successors. And last March, after new members of the assembly were elected to an eight-year term, Khamenei himself called the probability that they would have to select his replacement “not low.”

The death of Khamenei will mark the biggest political change in the Islamic Republic since the death of the last supreme leader—Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the

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