By Selim Celal
It is quite common for judicial cases to make headlines in Iran. But, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the Iranian judges and judiciary have been making more headlines than the actual cases. This trend too, however, has developed a new dimension over the last couple of weeks with the former and current chiefs of the Iranian judiciary simultaneously coming under international spotlight.
It was started in Germany, where Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, the former chief of Iran’s judiciary, was under medical treatment at a private clinic. Hundreds of Iranian expats gathered in front of the clinic, demanding his trial. Even a German politician from the Green Party filed a lawsuit against Shahroudi under German Law on grounds of crime against humanity. However, before the justiciability of the lawsuit against him was decided by the relevant German court, Shahroudi left Germany under tight security.
In the meantime, the U.S. government came up with new sanctions on 14 Iranian individuals and entities, including Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the current chief of Iran’s judiciary, for his alleged institutional role in human rights abuses in Iran. This decision could have come earlier, as Ayatollah Sadeq was appointed as chief of the judiciary right after the 2009 post-presidential election riots. He played a key role in cracking down on Green movement activists. Yet, there is a Persian proverb used by the Urdu-speaking community in Pakistan: “dir amad, durust amad” (though it came late, it came right). Many people seems happy with the news. To them, Larijani is the symbol of repression and unbridled power. Among the heads of the three branches of government, Ayatollah Sadeq is the only one directly appointed by the Supreme Leader, and he is thus accountable to him alone.
Beside his repressive organizational role as the chief of judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq is at the center of casual political discussions among Iranians for many other reasons. The term Iranians most often use to refer to him is “Larijaniha” (plural of Larijani), rather than Larijani. To be specific, in Iran the surname “Larijani” is a “brand name”, as it were, which symbolizes nepotism. That is because, Ayatollah Sadeq’s older brother Ali Larijani is the president of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Therefore, two-thirds of the constitutional power in the Islamic Republic is concentrated in the hands of two brothers.
Ayatollah Sadeq has three other brothers who also occupy positions of great power: Jawad Larijani, ex-deputy of the foreign minister, is now the head of Iran’s Human Rights Commission, which represents the Islamic Republic at international human rights fora; Fazel Larijani, who was used to be a diplomat, is currently a top official in the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and the Islamic Azad University; and Baqer Larijani, who has in the past served as the chancellor of Tehran University of Medical Science, is now the deputy minister of Health. Altogether, they have formed an unchallengeable political block in the Iranian political system, hence no wonder they are popularly known as “the Dalton brothers”.
In the light of the above, one may wonder about the Larijani block’s sources of power, its aspirations and prospects in the future political horizon of the Islamic Republic. No doubt, the Larijani brothers are talented and skilled in predicting the directions of events as well as in political camouflaging. Yet, technically speaking, the Larijani block is the reflection of neo-tribalism in the Iranian political system. They owe their power to their multi-level and multi-layered connections with the traditional Shia religious institution: First, their father Ayatollah Syed Hashim Amuli Larijani has been an influential and respected clerk in Qom. Second, they are connected to the clergy class through marriage. Ali is the son-in-law of Ali Mutahhari, one of the ideologues of the Islamic Revolution; Ayatollah Sadeq is the son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani; and Baqer is son-in-law of of Ayatollah Hassanzadeh Amoli. On the other hand, Ayatollah Muhaqqiq Damad, a former chief of the State Inspectorate Organization, is Larijanis’ brother-in-law. Third, a number of influential Grand Ayatollahs, such as Makarim Shirazi and Javadi Amoli, were students of their father. Finally, while Ayatollah Sadeq is a professional clerk, the other four brothers were all educated at the Qom seminary and had student-teacher relationships with various powerful clergymen. These factors have come together to provide them with tremendous influence in Qom in general and in the clergy class in particular. That is why Ali Larijani always contests in the parliamentary elections from the Qom constituency. Although in a parliamentary setup all members are equal, in the case of Iran, members from the Tehran constituency are “more equal” and control the presiding board of the parliament. Despite this, Ali is the only president of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in the history of the Islamic Republic who is not from the Tehran constituency.
It is necessary to note that despite the advantages listed above, the Larijanis were not part of the mainstream politics during Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule. It was his successor Ayatollah Khamenei who discovered the Larijani family and appointed Ali as head of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s broadcasting services in 1994. He served in this position for over a decade, and then moved to other important positions before becoming the president of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in 2008.
A year later, in 2009, Iran was hit by a popular uprising which later came to be known as the Green Movement. In the midst of the uprising, the Supreme Leader appointed Ayatollah Sadeq as chief of Iran’s judiciary. He had not had a single day’s experience in the judiciary but was quick to prove his skills in cracking down on the Green Movement supporters and other political activists. Several of them were tortured and raped in detention to such extent that some could not cope with the psychological trauma and committed suicide after being released.
With huge power in their possession, the Larijani brothers, especially Ali and Ayatollah Sadeq, are struggling hard to jump higher. In fact, Ali Larijani had planned to contest in the 2013 presidential elections. But his plans fell through a few months before the election when Ahmadinejad, in an address at the parliament, played a voice recording of Fazel Larijani, proving that he had been using the prominence of his brothers for economic gains. But Ali Larijani is still coveting the presidential palace. It is even being rumored that a compromise has already been reached between him and President Rouhani that the former would support the president at the Assembly and, in return, would get the latter’s support for the next presidential elections scheduled for 2020.
On the other hand, Ayatollah Sadeq has been trying to come across as being a potential successor to Ayatollah Khamenei along with a number of other candidates, such as Hashemi Shahroodi and Ibrahim Raeesi. Raeesi has already spoiled his chances by contesting in the last election, and Shahroudi appears to be physically unfit as well. Therefore, Larijani has found himself in an ideal position and is quite optimistic about his chances. However, a number of factors suggest that his optimism is too simplistic and unrealistic.
Technically speaking, for the new supreme leader -- whoever it might be -- it will be very important to have a strong connection with the Guardian of the Islamic Revolution (GIR), and so far, the Larijani block has lacked it. Although Ali, once upon a time, was a top GIR commander, it is a thing of the past now. Since his quit, the GIR has undergone a substantial transformation. Therefore, even though Ali’s past affiliation with the GIR might be a prestigious CV item to capitalize on, it cannot serve as leverage for bargaining in the future.
Over the last few months, a severe attack has been staged against the Larijani block from the Ahmadinejad camp. Ahmadinejad grabs every chance to humiliate the personality of Ayatollah Sadeq at forums and freely gallops around, so to speak. Had there been the slightest chance for Sadeq Larijani to become the next supreme leader, Ahmadinejad would not have been engaged in all this. In fact, he would not have been allowed to do it in the first place since a future supreme leader should be projected as a holy person. Moreover, in the last couple of months, Ayatollah Sadeq has been in the news for having 63 personal interest-bearing bank accounts, in which he seems to have deposited billions of Iranian rials from the judiciary’s fund. At the same time, it was revealed that his daughter, Zahra Larijani, was caught red-handed spying for the British, though the details are yet to come out.
Putting all these pieces together, one can even suspect that all these are transpiring with a green signal from the GIR as part of its plan to discredit any ambitious person vying for the supreme leadership position. Therefore, the most likely scenario is that the Larijani block is a phenomenon of the Khamenei era and will quickly fall into oblivion soon after his death.
[ Selim Celal is a Turkey-based writer is an expert on Iran’s foreign policy and domestic politics ]
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.