Iran Focus: London, Apr. 18 Against a backdrop of mounting international concern over Irans nuclear brinkmanship, Tehran has been abuzz in recent days with rumours about the rapidly deteriorating health of a senior ayatollah and the impact of his probable departure from the countrys political scene. Iran Focus
London, Apr. 18 Against a backdrop of mounting international concern over Irans nuclear brinkmanship, Tehran has been abuzz in recent days with rumours about the rapidly deteriorating health of a senior ayatollah and the impact of his probable departure from the countrys political scene.
Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, 85, is chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a body of senior clerics entrusted with the task of selecting the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution.
Meshkini is reportedly afflicted with an advanced form of cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy for the past three months. The frail and emaciated cleric delivered the opening speech of a three-day session of the Assembly of Experts in March, but he was so ill that he had to leave shortly afterwards. The rest of the session was chaired by Meshkinis deputy, former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Ayatollah Meshkini is also the Friday prayers leader in the holy city of Qom, Irans most important Shiite theological centre. Last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed a hard-line cleric, Ayatollah Reza Ostadi, to lead the weekly congregation in Meshkinis place. The senior cleric holds a number of other positions and is a leading figure in the powerful Association of Theological Scholars.
In his sensitive position as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Meshkini has been an indispensable ally for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His strong ties to Khamenei were instrumental in helping the relatively junior cleric to assume the mantle of leadership after the demise of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in June 1989.
In January 1989, Meshkini was among a close circle of confidants who strongly urged Khomeini to sack his nominated successor, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. Montazeri was publicly disgraced by Khomeini after he objected to the mass execution of political prisoners in Iran in 1988. Meshkinis son-in-law, Ayatollah Mohammadi Reyshahri, who at the time headed the countrys secret police known as the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), played a key role in Montazeris fall from grace.
The departure of Meshkini from the political scene will deprive Khamenei of a key ally and will lead to a new round of infighting within the clerical leadership as to who would succeed him. Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, a respected senior cleric, is said to be ill and would not stand in next years elections for the Assembly of Experts. This leaves Rafsanjani as a likely candidate for the leadership of the Assembly. But senior clerics close to Khamenei are strongly opposed to such an eventuality and are already manoeuvring to have a Khamenei ally replace Meshkini.