Elected Iran’s supreme leader in June 1989 by the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Khamenei serves as the head of state and commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces.
His control of the Revolutionary Guard guarantees that the religious clerics have authority over the civil government. He thus has power over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, as well as the military and media.
Khamenei personally decides government policy in all significant matters and oversees his own financial empire.
Ali Khamenei (b. 1939) grew up in a very poor, humble family, the son of a cleric in Mashhad, the holiest city in Iran.
He became a cleric at the age of 11 during the time of the secular-leaning Shah, Reza Pahlavi. He studied under the future Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Qom, and agreed with Khomeini’s teaching that religious leaders ought to control the government.
Ayatollah Khamenei married in 1964 and has six children: four sons and two daughters. He is a simple man who loves poetry and gardening. Everything about him is unremarkable.
From 1962, he joined Khomeini protesting against Shah Reza Pahlavi’s dictatorship, and he was jailed six times. He helped form the Islamic Republic Party.
After the secular revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in Paris and forcibly set up an Islamic republic instead of a democratic government. Khamenei became part of the inner circle in the new republic.
Khamenei patiently served in the nominal role of President of Iran from 1981-89 and survived an assassination attempt in 1981. After Ayatollah Khomeini died, Khamenei was named the new Ayatollah and supreme leader of Iran in 1989 at the age of 49.
Ayatollah Khamenei is now the second-longest serving Iranian leader of the last century, after Shah Pahlavi.
He became the most powerful man in Iran by gaining control of the National Guard and using armed force to impose his will and oppress and halt all protests. He brutally suppresses uprisings and ignores popular demands. His regime treats Christians harshly.
Khamenei's paramount concern appears to be preserving his own power so as to ensure the survival of the Islamic theocracy, which he believes is based on principles of justice, independence, self-sufficiency, and piety.
It appears that Ayatollah Khamenei has become an even more merciless dictator than the dictator he helped overthrow.