power of clerics in iran

How do the clerics in Iran retain so much power? Do they have control of finances that allow them to keep the military in line? It seems they are not universally popular and you’d think they’d have to have some economic strength in addition to any religious following to pull off so much politiking.

Also, are the ranks of the clerics growing and/or splintering? It would seem likely that if that’s where the power is, people would be attracted to that line of life/work.



Iran basically has two parallel governments. There’s a secular government with a President and Parliament that’s chosen by general elections. But there’s also a seprate government run by a Supreme Leader and a Council of Guardians. This government is composed of Islamic clerics and their duty is to ensure that the secular government doesn’t violate Islamic religious law. They have the power to veto any law passed and any candidate must be approved by them in order to run for office. So they effectively control the other elected government (which has no similar checks over the religious government). In addition, the Supreme Leader has control of the armed forces, which keep the secular government from trying to defy the religious government.

In a broader sense, while there is a growing reform movement, the Islamic fundamentalists still have a lot of supporters among the Iranian people. In the recent election, most of the candidates ran on a some variation of a fundamentalist platform. (Of course, with the Council of Guardians having the power to veto candidates, there’s a limit to how much any candidate is going to be anti-fundamentalist.)

But do the clerics hold any particular power over the military outside of the way the government is structured? For instance, are the clerics particulary wealthy? Who gets on the Guardian Council and picks the top Banana.

The Supreme Leader is chosen by the Assembly of Experts; a religious group who basically monitor the Supreme Leader. But their control over him is nominal as he’s chosen for life. So it’s sort of like the relationship between the Pope and the College of Cardinals. There have only been two Supreme Leaders: Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor, Ali Khamenei.

The Supreme Leader gets to pick six of the twelve members of the Council of Guardians. The other six get nominated by the head of the Iranian judicial department (who is appointed by the Supreme Leader) and voted in by Parliament. The Guardians serve six year terms.

Article 110 of the Iranian Constitution, detailing the powers of the Supreme Leader. Note in particular the bolded clauses:

*Article 110 [Leadership Duties and Powers]

(1) Following are the duties and powers of the Leadership:

  1. Delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran after consultation with the Nation’s Exigency Council.

  2. Supervision over the proper execution of the general policies of the system.

  3. Issuing decrees for national referenda.

**4. Assuming supreme command of the Armed Forces.

  1. Declaration of war and peace and the mobilization of the Armed Forces.

  2. Appointment, dismissal, and resignation of:

a. the religious men on the Guardian Council,
b. the supreme judicial authority of the country,
c. the head of the radio and television network of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
d. the chief of the joint staff,
e. the chief commander of the Isalmic Revolution Guards Corps, and
f. the supreme commanders of the Armed Forces.

  1. Resolving differences between the three wings of the Armed Forces and regulation of their relations.**

  2. Resolving the problems which cannot be solved by conventional methods, through the Nation’s Exigency Council.

  3. Signing the decree formalizing the election of the President of the Republic by the people. The suitability of candidates for the Presidency of the Republic, with respect to the qualifications specified in the Constitution, must be confirmed before elections take place by the Guardian Council, and, in the case of the first term of a President, by the Leadership.

  4. Dismissal of the President of the Republic, with due regard for the interests of the country, after the Supreme Court holds him guilty of the violation of his constitutional duties, or after a vote of the Islamic Consultative Assembly testifying to his incompetence on the basis of Article 89.

  5. Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts, within the framework of Islamic criteria, on a recommendation from the Head of judicial power.

(2) The Leader may delegate part of his duties and powers to another person.*

  • Tamerlane