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How Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, sees the world

Ayatollah Khamenei has preserved his view of the revolution in postelection clampdown, analysts say – but perhaps at great cost to the office he occupies.

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When his younger brother Hadi Khamenei, a reformist cleric who favors more oversight and checks on the power of the supreme leader, called for this in a sermon in 1999, he was savagely beaten by basiji militia loyal to the ayatollah – the same group that has been used to attack protesters in recent days.

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"I think, in some respects, what Khamenei has done in the past 10 years has been to amass even more authority institutionally than his predecessor ever had," says Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "He clearly sees the revolution itself as under threat, and Iran has already begun to deliver with the violence over the weekend. I think they're in a good position to repress, and I don't think Khamenei will blink."

Iran's 'Dick Cheney'

Ms. Maloney says that what he lacks in charisma and theological heft (he is not considered among the country's top scholars of Shiite Islam), Khamenei has made up for in building networks of appointees and other relationships in Iran's political elite.

"I've always thought of him as the Dick Cheney of Iran," she says. "You wouldn't have expected, based on his personality, that he'd amass this kind of power."

Scholars say that Khamenei's political activism under the shah, as well as his experience of being tortured by the shah's secret police, helped cement his view that the United States and Britain see Islam and Iran as implacable foes, with both countries supporting the shah and providing training and resources to his apparatus of repression.

"Clearly, he views the world as aligned against Iran, he talks about the Iran-Iraq war as a war of the world against Iran, not a war of two states," says Maloney. "He talks about Ahmedinejad's term in office in very glowing terminology, as someone who brought the revolution back to its roots and returned Iran from the brink of vulnerability."

In his analysis, Mr. Sadjadpour notes that the ayatollah's writings reflect "a resolute leader with a remarkably consistent and coherent – though highly cynical and conspiratorial – world view."

Mr. Cole, at the University of Michigan, says Khamenei's worldview has led him to see Iran's reformists as abiding threats, even though many of them just want to tweak the nature of the Islamic revolution, not overthrow it entirely.

"What a lot of the reformers want is consumer capitalism and international integration … and Khamenei sees this as an existential to the republic," says Cole. "Khamenei is afraid that if Iran isn't economically independent, then the US will find a way to get a hold of it again and subjugate it. A lot of his paranoia is that the reformists want to give away the show."

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