Iran’s Most Famous Family Uses Instagram to Announce Major Political Defeat

Ayatollah Khomeini's great-grandson broke the news on Instagram that his father has been disqualified from running in a historic election.

TEHRAN, IRAN - DECEMBER 18: Grandson of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Hassan Khomeini (R) registers for February's election of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that chooses the supreme leader, in Tehran, Iran on December 18, 2015. The registration process for the Assembly of Experts will continue until December 23 and the registration process for those who wish to be appointed as nominees for the Parliamentary election will start on December 19. (Photo by )
TEHRAN, IRAN - DECEMBER 18: Grandson of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Hassan Khomeini (R) registers for February's election of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that chooses the supreme leader, in Tehran, Iran on December 18, 2015. The registration process for the Assembly of Experts will continue until December 23 and the registration process for those who wish to be appointed as nominees for the Parliamentary election will start on December 19. (Photo by )
TEHRAN, IRAN - DECEMBER 18: Grandson of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Hassan Khomeini (R) registers for February's election of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that chooses the supreme leader, in Tehran, Iran on December 18, 2015. The registration process for the Assembly of Experts will continue until December 23 and the registration process for those who wish to be appointed as nominees for the Parliamentary election will start on December 19. (Photo by )

The 200,000 people who follow Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s great-grandson on Instagram are used to seeing the teenager’s photos of soccer matches and selfies with family members.

That changed Tuesday when Ahmad Khomeini’s Instagram followers became the first public audience to know that his father -- the ayatollah’s grandson -- had been disqualified from running for the Assembly of Experts, a body of clerics that will choose the next supreme leader of Iran.

Hassan Khomeini is one of Iran’s most-watched political newcomers. His son Ahmad posted a photo of his father studying behind a thick stack of Islamic textbooks in announcing he was disqualified from running in a Feb. 26 election. “Last night, it became clear that the Guardian Council could not approve the qualifications of my father and could not verify his credentials as an Islamic scholar,” Ahmad Khomeini wrote of the supervisory clerical body that rejected his father’s candidacy.

The 200,000 people who follow Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s great-grandson on Instagram are used to seeing the teenager’s photos of soccer matches and selfies with family members.

That changed Tuesday when Ahmad Khomeini’s Instagram followers became the first public audience to know that his father — the ayatollah’s grandson — had been disqualified from running for the Assembly of Experts, a body of clerics that will choose the next supreme leader of Iran.

Hassan Khomeini is one of Iran’s most-watched political newcomers. His son Ahmad posted a photo of his father studying behind a thick stack of Islamic textbooks in announcing he was disqualified from running in a Feb. 26 election. “Last night, it became clear that the Guardian Council could not approve the qualifications of my father and could not verify his credentials as an Islamic scholar,” Ahmad Khomeini wrote of the supervisory clerical body that rejected his father’s candidacy.

Hassan Khomeini later verified that claim on his own Instagram account by reposting what his son wrote and adding that he would publicly discuss the matter on Thursday. The news is a blow to moderate and reformist political camps in Iran, which view the elder Khomeini as an ally and were counting on his hallowed family name to get him past the vetting process.

Ahmad Khomeini’s post also mentioned a mandatory exam to which his father hadn’t received an invitation. The younger Khomeini added that he thinks “the reason is clear for all” — likely a hint that he believes the Guardian Council did not make its decision on fair legal grounds.

Although Ahmad Khomeini didn’t elaborate, reformists had feared the Guardian Council would bar his father from running not because of insufficient religious credentials — he teaches philosophy and religion in the holy city of Qom — but because of his links to leading moderate politicians. They include President Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both of whom are running for a position in the Assembly of Experts as well. Conservatives have previously tarred Hassan Khomeini as part of a “seditious movement” led by Rafsanjani.

Iranian political factions are vying intensely for control of the Assembly of Experts during this election because the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is 76 and rumored to be ill. The next election isn’t until 2024, which could leave the fate of the country’s top political office in the hands of those who win in February.

Although Hassan Khomeini has until Jan. 30 to appeal the decision, a prominent Tehran-based Iranian journalist who requested anonymity told Foreign Policy the elder Khomeini may begrudgingly accept his rejection to preserve his family’s legacy. Still, even if he does accept it, Khamenei could step in to reverse the decision.

“Khomeini has a superior position among the Iranian people,” the Iranian journalist said. “It’s possible that the supreme leader interferes and orders the Guardian Council to approve Khomeini.”

Photo credit: FATEMEH BAHRAMI/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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