According to Article 110 of Iran’s constitution, the Supreme Leader appoints the chief of the judiciary, six jurists of the Guardian Council, the chairman of Iran’s state-run radio and television network and senior commanders of the armed forces. In practice, however, he appoints or vets hundreds of Iranian officials, ranging from the commander of the country’s Air Defence Force to the secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace and the chairman of the founding board of the Islamic Azad University (Iran’s largest private university network). Some of these officials are nominated by other high-ranking officials and then appointed by the Leader. But many are appointed by the Leader without being nominated by any other government officials.
The Leader's authority to appoint officials is set out directly in various articles of the constitution or in the laws passed by the parliament. However, his authority vis-a-vis many other appointments is not specified in any Iranian laws.
In Iran there are a number of supreme state councils tasked with macro-level policy-making in different areas. The most important of these councils are the Guardian Council, the Expediency Discernment Council, the Supreme Council of National Security, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace and the Supreme Board for Dispute Resolution Among the Three Branches of the Government. A considerable number of the members of these councils are appointed by the Leader.
The Guardian Council
This 12-member council is in charge of ratifying all laws passed by the Iranian parliament (the majlis). The council also has the authority to approve the qualifications of the candidates for the presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as the elections for the Assembly of Experts (which will appoint the next leader). Another task of the Guardian Council is to supervise the three above elections and to confirm their final outcome, with irreversible authority, even to annul the results. Six members of the council are the Shia jurists directly appointed by the Leader. The other six are lawyers selected by the parliament out of a larger group of lawyers who have been nominated by the chief of the judiciary (who is himself an appointee of the Leader).
The Expediency Discernment Council
If the Guardian Council vetoes a law that parliament passes, members of parliament must reconsider the law. If they do not accept the Guardian Council’s view, the law is then sent to the Expediency Discernment Council for a final decision. This council is also responsible for advising the Leader on the state’s general policies. If the council’s proposed policies are ratified by the Supreme Leader, they must then be taken into consideration in the parliament’s future decisions.
The Leader appoints the chairman and secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council. He directly appoints the head of the judiciary, the six jurists of the Guardian Council, the chairman of the Armed Forces General Staff, as well as a number of trusted individuals (currently 36). These individuals are political figures appointed by the Leader in their individual capacity rather than their official roles. The president, the speaker of the parliament, and the relevant minister and the parliament commission head for a particular subject under discussion in the Expediency Discernment Council are the only members of the council who are not appointed by the Leader. The secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, also a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, is also not appointed by the leader; however, his appointment is indirectly coordinated with the Leader (see further explanations in the next section).
The Supreme National Security Council
This council is tasked with large-scale policy-making on national security issues. The Supreme National Security Council is headed by the president, but its resolutions must be ratified by the Leader in order to be implemented.
The Supreme Leader appoints the head of the judiciary and the chairman of the Armed Forces General Staff, as well as the Leader’s two representatives on the council. The president appoints the ministers of intelligence, state and foreign affairs as other permanent members of the council, but their appointment must be vetted by the Leader (further clarification in the section looking at “the government’s sensitive ministers”).
The president, the speaker of the parliament and the head of the Management and Planning Organization are the only permanent members of the council whose appointment is not connected with the Leader. In terms of a particular subject matter being discussed in parliament, commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) the Artesh (the regular army) and the minister holding the relevant brief for that topic may participate in the council’s sessions too. The Leader directly appoints the commanders of both the IRGC and the Artesh. The secretary of the Supreme National Security Council is appointed by the president, but the Leader must approve his appointment. This is because the secretary will also be one of the two representatives for the Leader in the council — and naturally he will not appoint a representative with whom he disagrees.
The Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution
This council defines the state’s general policies on cultural issues. The council is headed by the president, but most of its members are the Leader’s appointees. These appointees comprise the head of the judiciary, the heads of the Islamic Propaganda Organization, the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, the Islamic Propaganda Office of the Qom Seminary, the Office for Representatives of the Supreme Leader at Universities, as well as 19 individuals — religious, cultural and political figures who are trusted by the Leader and are appointed by him in their individual capacity rather than as part of their official role. After consultation with the Leader, the president appoints three members of the council: the ministers of culture, science and education. The head of the Islamic Azad University is another member of the council who is not appointed by the Leader, but he acts under the supervision of the chairman of the university's founding delegation (a Leader appointee).
The president, the speaker of the parliament, the minister of health, two of the president’s deputies (in scientific and women’s affairs), three heads of parliamentary commissions (culture, education and health), and the head of the Jihad University (in charge of university publications) are members of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution. None of their appointments are connected to the Leader.
The Supreme Council for Cyberspace
This council was established in 2012 to oversee the internet by the order of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The council is headed by the president, but its secretary is appointed by the Leader. The Leader appoints the head of the state-run radio and television network, the country 's Attorney General, the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards and the police, the head of the Islamic Propaganda Organization, as well as 10 other individuals to sit on the council. The president appoints the ministers of intelligence, defence, science, culture and education to the council, but their appointment must be coordinated with the Leader. The president, the speaker of the parliament, the minister of communications and the Deputy President in Scientific and Technology Affairs are the only members whose appointment is not connected to the Leader.
The Supreme Board for Dispute Resolution Among the Three Branches of Government
This five-member council was established in 2011 by the order of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is tasked with resolving disputes between the executive, judicial and legislative powers, as well as fostering “coordination” among them. The council is chaired by Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of the Expediency Discernment Council, and the former head of the judiciary. The Leader appoints him and the other four members of the council, people he selects in their individual capacity rather than their official roles.
The head of the judiciary is a direct appointee of the Supreme Leader. The Iranian judiciary has never claimed to be independent from the Leader, and judicial officials have always stressed that they consider it a duty to follow Ayatollah Khamenei’s views. In addition to the head of the judiciary, the Leader also appoints the attorney of the Special Court for the Clergy. This powerful court has the sensitive responsibility of handling cases relating to clerics, thus enjoying very vast and special powers.
The Supreme Leader is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result, he appoints all senior commanders and many other officials across the armed forces. In fact, Ayatollah Khamenei is much more involved in the appointment of the officials of the armed forces than he is in appointments to other government bodies.
Armed Forces General Staff
This body is in charge of coordinating the activities of the Revolutionary Guards (and the Basij), the Artesh, the police and the Ministry of Defence. The Supreme Leader appoints the chairman of the Armed Forces General Staff, as well as the second-in-command and the Coordinator Assistant to the chairman. The heads of the Ideological-Political Bureau and the Counter-Intelligence Bureau of the Armed Forces General Staff, as well as the chairman of the Asymmetric Defence Organization (which operates under the Armed Forces General Staff) are the Leader’s appointees, too. In addition, the Leader appoints the Deputy Chairmen of the Armed Forces General Staff in Basij Affairs, in Logistics and Industrial Research, in Cultural and Defence Propaganda and in Human Resources, as well as the Deputy Chairman of the Armed Forces General Staff in charge of (Military) Inspection.
Finally, the Leader appoints the commander of the Khatam al-Anbia Division, the most important military headquarters in Iran, which operates under the Armed Forces General Staff. The unit is tasked with coordinating the operations of the armed forces, including in the case of a possible foreign attack. The Khatam Division should not be confused with the Revolutionary Guards’ Khatam al-Anbia headquarters, which is in charge of major construction projects.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)
This is the Islamic Republic's most important military force. The Leader appoints the commander and the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Guards. He also appoints the commanders of the Ground, Aerospace (missile) and Naval Forces, as well as commander of the Quds Force of the Guards (which is in charge of extraterritorial operations). The Leader also appoints the chairmen of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Agency (one of the two main intelligence agencies of Iran, the Ministry of Intelligence being the other), the Revolutionary Guards’ Counter-Intelligence Organization (which supervises personnel and takes care of internal information), the Basij (Iran’s gigantic paramilitary force) and the Revolutionary Guards’ Protection Corps (in charge of the security of Iranian high-ranking authorities and that of Iran’s aviation).
The Supreme Leader also appoints the Leader’s representative in the Guards (he also choses a separate representative in the Basij). His representative in the Guards is a the top figure of the Political Bureau, which is responsible for providing ideological and political training to commanders and personnel. The Coordinating Deputy of the Revolutionary Guards’ commander is also a Leader appointee.
This is the Iranian regular army. Contrary to the Revolutionary Guards, which is tasked with safeguarding the Islamic Revolution, the Artesh is responsible for protecting Iran's borders and the country’s territorial integrity. In addition to the commander and the second-in-command of the Artesh, the commanders of the Ground, Air and Naval Forces, as well as that of the Artesh’s Air Defence Force, are all appointed by the Leader.
The chairman of the Artesh’s Ideological-Political Bureau (which provides ideological and political training to commanders and personnel), the head of the Artesh’s Counter-Intelligence Organization, the Coordinating Deputy Commander, and the head of the Artesh’s Center for Strategic Studies are also the Leader’s appointees.
The Police (the Law Enforcement Force)
The Supreme Leader appoints the commander of the Iranian police. This force operates administratively under the Ministry of Interior, but its top commanders are accountable to the Leader. The Coordinating Deputy of the police commander, the chairman of the Political-Ideological Bureau and the head of the police’s Counter-Intelligence Organization are also appointed by the Leader.
A wide range of institutions operating in media, propaganda and research fields are under the supervision of the Islamic Republic's Leader. The most important are the following:
The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB (Iran’s state-run radio and television network)
The Leader’s authority to appoint the head of the IRIB is emphasized in the constitution of the Islamic Republic. The IRIB has more than 50,000 employees and a three-digit number of television and radio networks operating both inside and outside Iran.
Other media institutions
The media institutions Keyhan (“the Universe”) and Ettela’at (“Information”) are also under the Leader’s control. They publish the newspapers Keyhan and Ettela’at, the most important Iranian newspapers prior to the Islamic Revolution, which were then placed under the Leader’s supervision post-revolution. Both establishments have huge printing houses which, in addition to Keyhan and Ettela’at, publish a large number of weekly journals, magazines and books.
In addition to these, the Leader-affiliated Revolutionary Guards and the Basij run a broad range of media outlets, including at least six news agencies and many huge film and advertising agencies.
The political-religious institutions affiliated with the Leader are important from different perspectives. For example, the Friday Prayers Policymaking Council undertakes the important task of supervising Friday Prayers preachers nationwide, and these individuals are among the most influential figures in every city and province. Another example is the Islamic Propaganda Organization, which controls a vast collection of advertising, media and film agencies. The Islamic Propaganda Office of the Qom Seminary also plays a decisive role, given its responsibility for overseeing the Iranian clergy. Other important cultural institutions affiliated with the Leader include the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization (in charge of organizing the trips of tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims to Mecca), the Center of Supervision on Mosques Affairs (which is responsible for supervising tens of thousands of mosques nationwide), as well as the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization and Al-Mustafa International University (which are in charge of ideological propaganda in dozens of countries around the world).
One example is the Office for Representatives of the Supreme Leader at Universities, which has active offices at every university in Iran. This bureau oversees the implementation of cultural policies that are approved by the Leader. The chairman of the founding board of the Islamic Azad University (Iran’s largest private university network) is also appointed by the Leader. Azad University has numerous branches across the country and even in small towns.
A collection of Iranian institutions and foundations are under the Leader’s supervision. The most powerful of these institutions is the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. The IRGC is a military force, but it owns numerous economic arms active in the fields of oil, mining, construction, banking, telecommunication projects, and so on. Other major economic institutions that are under the Leader’s supervision include:
The Executive Office for Imam's Order
This huge foundation owns a huge part of the assets that have been confiscated by the authorities because the government believes they have been obtained through “illegitimate” means. The Executive Office for Imam's Order, established in 1988 by Ayatollah Khomeini, runs numerous firms and companies active in different fields, ranging from oil and construction to banking and telecommunications projects.
Astan Quds Razavi
The main responsibility of this economic foundation is management of the shrine of the 8th Shia Imam (Reza) and the huge collection of endowments belonging to the Imam. The foundation has made great investments inside and outside Iran, and owns dozens of large companies and large estates across the country.
The Foundation of the Oppressed
This foundation has the responsibility of helping low-income people. The Foundation of the Oppressed possesses numerous properties and assets nationwide and has made many investments in lucrative fields. Until 2002, it was named the Oppressed and the Veterans’ Foundation, putting it in charge of taking care of wounded war veterans and their families as well. But in 2002, that particular responsibility was handed to the newly-established Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs.
The Endowment and Charity Affairs Organization
The most important task of this foundation is taking care of thousands of shrines of religious saints scattered all over Iran, as well as managing the “revenues” of these shrines (hundreds of thousands of people who make religious vows donate money to these shrines). In fact, apart from specific shrines, such as that of the 8th Shia Imam, which are managed by independent foundations, a vast array of other shrines and charities operate under this foundation. The director of the Endowment and Charity Affairs Organization is also the Leader’s representative in the organization and an appointee of the executive branch. However, he is mainly accountable to the Leader.
The Housing Foundation
This foundation is tasked with helping to provide housing for low-income people. It runs huge construction projects all over the country. The Housing Foundation operates under the executive branch, but the Leader's representative in the foundation has the most important role in determining its general policies.
The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee
This charitable foundation runs large and lucrative investments across Iran.
The 15th Khordad Foundation (June 5th) Foundation
This charitable foundation carries out activities more or less similar to those of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (albeit on a smaller scale).
The Supreme Leader’s Representatives in the Provinces:
The Leader appoints powerful representatives in all Iranian provinces. They are often more influential than the governor generals and serve as the Friday prayer leaders of the provincial capital as well. In different cities of each province, the Friday Prayer preachers are usually more influential than governors. These preachers are supervised by the Friday Prayers Policymaking Council (which is under the Leader’s control). However, the appointment of these Friday Prayers preachers is coordinated with the Leader’s representative in every province.
The Government’s Sensitive Ministers:
Although government cabinet ministers are appointed by the president, the appointment of certain “sensitive” or key ministers must be coordinated and vetted by the Leader.
In particular, the Leader has to approve the appointment of the ministers of intelligence, foreign affairs and defense. In the case of the ministry of defense, even the heads of the ministry’s counter-intelligence and the chairman of the Political-Ideological Bureau are the Leader’s appointees. Since the Minister of the Interior is also the acting commander-in-chief of the police, his appointment must also be vetted by the Leader. The Minister of the Interior does not have the authority to appoint or dismiss police commanders.
On the other hand, the president appoints the ministers of culture, science and education after consultation with the Leader. The minister of justice, although not being among the most sensitive cabinet members, has to be appointed in coordination with the head of the judiciary (who is himself the Leader’s appointee). The Leader’s role in appointing cabinet ministers to deal with sensitive areas is not explicitly specified in any Iranian law and is viewed rather as a well-established tradition in Iran’s political system. However, there is no doubt that neglecting this tradition would lead to a direct and costly conflict with the Supreme Leader.
Powers of the Leader as a Grand Ayatollah (marja):
Aside from the role of the Leader as the most powerful authority in the Iranian political system, he also has broad powers as a Grand Ayatollah.
Ayatollah Khamenei teaches a selective number of religious students who take part in his theological lessons and, due to this privilege, enjoy and will continue to enjoy important positions in the Iranian political system overseeing sensitive matters.
The Supreme Leader, as a powerful Grand Ayatollah, also has a considerable number of religious followers inside and outside Iran who pay religious taxes to him to be used in any field he decides.
Finally, the Leader’s fatwas are viewed as being the official interpretation of religious rules in the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result, even if a number of other Grand Ayatollahs do not agree with them, these fatwas are followed by all government institutions.