Election officials meet with the Leader of the Revolution

Facts on Iran's Supreme Leader selection MSM don't want you to know

By Rana Rashid Mudhaffer*


Democracy is described as one of the best political systems around the world, and many rulers of countries describe themselves as democratic and people-oriented; and dominate the political power with this guarantee.

According to Diamond and Plattner (2009), “The prestige of democracy began to soar” (p. xi) in different regions around the world today. However, Democracy is everywhere admired, as a political ideal, and nowhere actually practiced. (1) In the phase of practice, democracy faces different challenges. Indeed, a great number of countries are in a situation between democracy and authoritarianism. (2)

In the Islamic government, authority of people is achieved through Shura. The term Shura, in its arabic root, means to consult or to ask for advice. The root of the Arabic word, Shura, is in fact Shareolasal, meaning obtaining honey from the hive. Accordingly, it implies that through consulting we can get the best results. (3) The word Shura is used in the Quran with the same meaning. The Prophet (PBUH) and all the believers are invited to consult with each other in social and political issues.

For instance, sureh Al-e-Imran, verse 159 reads: “and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]”. This verse implies that Shura originated in Islam--Islamic leaders should consult with other Muslims for managing the nation’s affairs; and this can be achieved through consulting with people’s elected representatives. This verse is revealed in Medinah, after the establishment of an Islamic government by the Prophet (PBUH); the verse, hence, refers to consulting in the Islamic government. (4)

According to these references, the active participation of the people in the Islamic government is essential and important. The Islamic government is not eligible, if it ignores the authority of the people. Rashid al-Ghannouchi (b. 1941) in Participation in Non-Islamic Government in Liberal Islam defines the Islamic government as follows:

The Islamic government is one in which: 1- supreme legislative authority is for the shari’a, which is the revealed law of Islam, which transcends all laws. Within this context, it is responsibility of scholars to deduce detailed laws and regulations to be used as guidelines by judges. The head of the Islamic state is the leader of the executive body entrusted with the responsibility of implementing such laws and regulations. 2-political power belongs to the community (ummah), which should adopt a form of ‘shura’ which is a system of mandatory consultation (5)

Just as Ghannouchi mentions, participation in political affairs of the Islamic government is a duty for all Muslims. Isolation and separation from politics is contrary to Islamic Sharia laws. Vali-e Faghih must consult with others, and all the people are bound to participate in the government decisions and affairs. It is only through Shura that dictatorship can be removed from a country.

The division of power in this manner can lead to great results: “development, social solidarity, civil liberties, human rights, political pluralism, independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, or liberty for mosques or Islamic activities” (5). Sadek Sulaiman (b. 1933) also compares Shura with fundamentals of democracy. ​ ​ ​ ​

“Shura in Islam does not differ from democracy. Both shura and democracy arise from the central consideration that collective deliberation is more likely to lead to a fair and sound result for the social good than individual preference” (6). 

In the political system of Iran, Shura is realized by means of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts. Every four years, the Iranian people elect the President of Iran. In addition, the elections for the Islamic Consultative Assembly(Majlis) and also for the Assembly of Experts take place every four years.  Through these elections, people can select their favourite candidates.

The highest political position in Iran, i.e. Vali-e Faghih, is appointed by means of election in the Assembly of Experts for Leadership.[1] A group of jurists, elected by the nation, choose Vali-e Faghih. This group of jurists are referred to as the Assembly of Experts. After selection of the Supreme Leader, this group of jurists continue to examine how the leader uses his power and authority. As a result, we can say that the Supreme Leader is always controlled by the people; and, thus, cannot follow his own interests or misuse his authority. 

In fact, the Assembly of Experts consists of a council of elected religious scholars, who have the responsibility of selecting the Supreme Leader and supervising his activities. The Assembly of Experts meet every 6 months to evaluate the Supreme Leader's practice and decide whether to extend his term of leadership.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, defines the relation between the Supreme Leader and the nation as follows: ​ ​ ​ ​

“I do not want to impose (my will) on my people, and Islam does not permit us to establish a dictatorship. We follow our nation’s votes and act according to their views. We have no right, God has not conferred such a right to us, and the Prophet (pbuh) never permitted us to impose our ideas upon Muslims."[2]

According to Goddard, the democracy measure in our world makes one wonder. Goddard observes a clear difference between the implementation of democracy and the foreign policy in each country. He showcases this difference with two examples in the Persian Gulf region. On its western coast, Saudi Arabia is heavily leaning towards the West in its foreign policy. It has military agreements with the United States, and it is very much depending upon American oil corporations. Yet, it has no claim of being a democratic country. The Al Saud dynasty has been ruling the country for decades, without even having an elected consulting body (7). On the other side, Iran, despite its anti-western rhetoric for the past twenty years ..., calling the United States the great Evil ..., is practically a democracy (7). Goddard believes that Iran, not only holds elections, but also, those elections are real ones, where the results are not decided already (7).

In 1979, Iran was the scene of a revolution against its monarchy. Before this revolution, the Shah (literally king in Persian) was the head of the state, and he had the last word in any matter relating to the government or the people, without any supervision whatsoever.

The media was controlled by the regime, and dissent would be brutally oppressed and crushed by the intelligence agency, SAVAK, loyal to the Shah. The oppression was so vicious and harsh that it made the people more determined in following Imam Khomeini, who was leading the opposition.

After the revolution, with the Shah being ousted from power and fleeing the country despite America's support, Imam Khomeini let the people decide the system of governance in a referendum. On April 1st, 1979 the majority voted for the Islamic Republic, and the new state was established.

The Iranian population has participated in more than 30 elections so far, voting to choose presidents, members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), local councils, and members of the Assembly of Experts. These elections have been generally followed by the public around the world.

Contrary to some retrograde countries that do not hold any elections, and even contrary to Western countries where the results of the elections are usually systematically predictable, the results of the elections in Iran have been, in some cases, totally unpredictable and radically changing. The high rate of participation of Iranians in previous elections (contrary to Western countries), generally between 50 and 70 percent, shows that people seriously believe in their power and influence over their political system.



[1] “The Assembly of Experts is a clerical council responsible for electing the Supreme Leader of Iran". Members of the Assembly are elected by the people.“The Assembly of Experts convenes every six months to review the activities of the Supreme Leader in power and decide whether to further extend his term” (8)

[2] Ayatollah Khomeini, Saheefeye Noor, 1982, vol. 10, p. 181 (9)


  1. Blaug, R. & Schwarzmantel, J. (Eds.). (2004). Democracy: A reader. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press.
  2. Diamond, L. J. & Plattner, M. F. (2009). Democracy: A reader. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  3. Ghorshi, A. A. (1994). Ghamus-e Quran. (Vols. 7). Tehran, Iran: Dar al-kotob-e eslami.
  4. Ostadi, R. (1981). Shura dar Quran wa hadith. Qom, Iran: Hejrat.
  5. Al-Ghannouchi, R. (1998). Participation in Non-Islamic Government. In Ch. Kurzman (Ed.), Liberal Islam (pp. 89-95). New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Vaezi, A. (2004). Shi’a political thought. London: Islamic centre of England.
  7. Goddard, H. (2002). Islam and democracy. The Political Quarterly, 73(1), 3-9. Doi: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-923X.00435/abstract
  8. Alexander, Y. & Hoenig, M. M. (2008). The new Iranian leadership: Ahmadinejad, terrorism, nuclear ambition and the Middle East. Westport, US: Greenwood Publishing Group.
  9. Khomeini, R. (1981). Islam and Revolution (H. Algar, Trans.). Berkeley: Mizan Press.



*Rana Rashid Mudhaffer holds an MA degree in Islamic Political Thought from the University of Baqir al-Olum University.  She is an expert on Islamic Jursprudence and Shia Political Thought. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed on Op-Ed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Khamenei.ir.