Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has emerged as one of the most powerful Iranian leaders of the last century and wields control over all aspects of the country’s government, military and media.
Khamenei was born on July 16, 1939, to a traditional family. His father was a cleric, and Khamenei began a religious education at a young age.
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He rose to power after Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was ousted in 1979, an initiative that Khamenei championed for many years. He served as minister of defense and then supervisor of the Revolutionary Guards.
After surviving an assassination attempt that paralyzed his right arm, Khamenei was asked by revolutionary elites to run for president. He successfully did so and was elected in 1981.
He served the maximum two terms and has been Iran’s supreme leader since 1989, making him the second-longest-serving autocrat in the Middle East as well as the second-longest-serving Iranian leader of the last century.
The majority of his presidency was enveloped in turmoil, as the Iran-Iraq War brewed, which killed an estimated half a million Iranian and Iraqi soldiers. After serving out his term, he later became the country’s supreme leader, despite pushback from some senior clerics that felt he was unqualified for the position.
During the 1979 revolution in Iran, Khamenei preached about overthrowing the shah and resisting the United States and the western world in an effort to reaffirm Islamic values in the Iranian government and avoid any influences that threaten to undermine his autocratic rule and the self-sufficiency of his country.
Despite being skeptical of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Khamenei reluctantly gave both President Rouhani and the deal — brokered under the Obama administration — his approval. Since President Trump pulled out of the deal and exerted hefty sanctions on Iran in an effort to curb their nuclear proliferation, Khamenei has grown increasingly angered and disdainful at the U.S., which he has described as “deceitful, untrustworthy and backstabbing.”
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The economic nosedive Iran has faced in recent years has further escalated tensions between Washington and Tehran and encouraged Khamenei to preach resistance of the U.S. In a recent speech he uttered the word “resistance” 70 times and said that it, “unlike surrender, leads to the retreat of the enemy.”
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