Family dynasty inextricable from politics in Iran

Family dynasty inextricable from politics in Iran

The Larijani brothers wield tremendous influence over Iran’s foreign and domestic policy.

Although personal relationships are a vital part of conducting politics and business in Iran, there are few family dynasties that have established a significant position in the country’s politics.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s family has played little if any role in Iranian politics, though his grandson may run for political office in February. And though Ayatollah Khamenei’s son Mojtab Khamenei is thought to have influence with his father and to have played a role in the suppression of protests in 2009, he currently teaches in Qom and has not held any government office.

The Rafsanjanis are another very influential Iranian family, but aside from Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani other members of the family have had very little political success. The only real exception to this pattern is the Larijani family, which has been at the center of Iranian politics since the Islamic Revolution.

There are currently three main issues that shape Iran’s interactions with the West. First is the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the removal of sanctions, which is related to increased trade between Iran and the West, as well as to increased foreign investment in Iran.

Second is the issue of human rights and political freedom in Iran. And third is Iran’s foreign policy towards its neighbors, in particular Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Israel. Tied to these three main issues is Iran’s internal scientific and technical ability, which has helped to sustain Iran during the sanctions regime, and which made that regime much less effective than it might otherwise have been.

The Larijani brothers play a central role in each of these areas, and they are therefore essential figures in the development and articulation of Iran’s current foreign and domestic policies.

Family background

The Larijani brothers’ father, Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli, was born in 1899 in Larijan, Iran. He studied the Islamic Sciences at the Seminary (hawza) in Qom under its founder, Ayatollah Abdolkarim Haeri Yazdi, who eventually granted him the authority to use his own reasoning to issue Islamic legal rulings.

In 1932, Amoli went to study at the Hawza in Najaf, Iraq under Ayatollah Sayyid Abul Hasan Isfahani and Ayatollah Mirza Mohammad Hussein Naini, an influential scholar on Islamic government in Iran’s Constitutional Revolution of 1906.

Amoli stayed to teach in Najaf and was there at the same time as Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei and Ali al-Sistani as a young cleric. He returned to Qom in the early 1960s when Ayatollah Khomeini’s movement against the Shah was beginning, before Khomeini’s exile in 1965. The three oldest sons of Amoli, Mohammad Javad Larijani, Ali Larijani, and Sadegh Larijani were born in Najaf, while the two youngest, Bagher Larijani and Fazel Larijani, were born in Qom, Iran.

The Larijani brothers

Mohammad Javad Larijani, born in 1951, studied the Islamic Sciences in the hawza before going on to study engineering at Sharif University of Technology and then for his PhD in Mathematics at University of California, Berkeley.

As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Larijani was Iran’s lead negotiator at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. He served in parliament from 2000-2008 and is currently the head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights and a professor at Sharif University of Technology. He continues to be a close foreign policy advisor of Ayatollah Khamenei and has spoken about Iran’s position towards Israel.

Ali Larijani, born in 1957, also studied the Islamic Sciences before continuing with his secular education. He studied computer science and mathematics at Sharif University of Technology and then studied for a PhD in Philosophy from University of Tehran.

Ali began his political career in the Revolutionary Guard, and has since served in a number of high government positions, including Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance and as the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. He became a security advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, who also appointed him as Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council in 2005.

Ali was Iran’s Chief Nuclear negotiator from 2005-2007, before being elected to parliament in 2008 as the representative for Qom. Since 2008 he has also been the Speaker of Parliament. As speaker he recently played a crucial role in the passing of the JCPOA through the Iranian parliament. He is also helping to shape Iranian policy in Syria by trying to strengthen ties between Turkey and Iran while also putting pressure on Turkey, particularly with regard to the recent downing of a Russian aircraft.

Sadegh Larijani was born in 1961 and received a primarily clerical education at the hawza in Qom. He had a meteoric rise and served two terms on the 12 member Guardian Council before being appointed as the Chief Justice of Iran in 2009. He has also been a member of the Assembly of Experts since 1998.

Within Iran’s legal system Sadegh has the power to recommending the pardoning of sentences by the Supreme Leader, which holds particular weight in terms of Iran’s relations with the West especially where the detention of foreign journalists and other human rights issues are concerned. Last week Sadegh asserted the role of the West in causing the rise of ISIS and accused the United States and several other Western countries of continuing to support it.

Bagher Larijani was born in 1962. Unlike the other Larijani brothers, Bagher studied medicine instead of the Islamic Sciences. He has been equally successful, though, and in addition to having published hundreds of articles in medical journals he is Deputy Minister of Medical Education in Iran and a Professor of Endocrinology as well as President of Medical Policy Council at the Islamic Azad University.

Bagher plays a role in the development and reform of medical and technical education in Iran, which is vital to Iran’s status in the region. The development of policy around medical and technical education in Iran will also determine what kinds of foreign investment and collaboration are possible in the higher education sector.

Fazel Larijani, born in 1964, studied physics at Sharif University of Technology before studying for his master’s degree at the University of Southern California and his PhD at Tarbiat Modares University. He was Iran’s Cultural Attachée to Canada and was on the Advisory Commission for Iran’s Supreme Council on the Cultural Revolution. He is an advisor to the President of Islamic Azad University and is a member of a number of other smaller governmental and university bodies.

The power and personal influence of the five Larijani brothers, together with the family’s strong ties to the politico-clerical establishment, means their influence over Iran’s foreign and domestic policy is not likely to wane in the near future.

About Author

Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a political risk analyst and historian of the Middle East with a background in Arabic and Persian translation. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and History, with a minor in Persian, from the University of California Berkeley, as well as an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago and an MSt in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford.