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How Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, sees the world

Ayatollah Khamenei has preserved his view of the revolution in postelection clampdown, analysts say – but perhaps at great cost to the office he occupies.

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Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, which toppled with breathtaking speed Iran's corrupt and secular shah, the country has had two rulers.

One is the package – standard in modern republics – of head of state and parliament. And then there’s the supreme leader, who, in practice, has to work with the consent of the nation’s formally democratic institutions but who, in theory, has the power to overrule them if he feels their actions run counter to God’s will. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the political hierarchy in Iran.]

The supreme leader today is Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, for 20 years now the successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, the charismatic preacher who defined the contours of the theocratic Iranian state and who died in 1989.

Karim Sadjadpour, a senior Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called Mr. Khamenei "the single most powerful individual in a highly factionalized, autocratic regime" in a paper on the cleric last year.

High cost of controversial decision

It is Khamenei who has the ultimate responsibility for the apparent decision to skew Iran's presidential election in favor of his preferred candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and for unleashing the security forces that have killed at least 17 Iranians protesting the outcome in the past week, sending Iran into its greatest political crisis in 30 years.


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