Iran’s Guardian Council, a prominent branch of the country’s political system, is often in the spotlight both inside and outside of the country, and at its head sits Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a man of long political experience.

This twelve member government organ has been at the centre of many announcements regarding official response to the contested June 12 presidential elections. Beyond having the authority to express judgments on election results, the Guardian Council can bar potential candidates from running for the presidency, the parliament (Majlis), the Assembly of Experts or in local councils. It also approves all bills that are passed by the Majlis. These powers are meant to ensure that candidates and legislation adhere to Islamic law and to the constitution. (1)

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati is the current chairman of the Guardian Council, and has held that post since 1988. He is only the second person to have received this post since the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Jannati’s political power and influence is not only long-standing, it is also broad. He holds political office in two other government organs: the Assembly of Experts (a popularly elected body that selects and advises the supreme leader, and can technically impeach him) and the Expediency Discernment Council (a body whose members are selected by the supreme leader, serving to resolve disputes between the Guardian Council and the Majlis).

In September of 2007, Ayatollah Jannati came second in a contest for the chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts, receiving 31 of 76 votes (2) against former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s 41 votes (3). A victory on his part would have made him head of a pair of prominent government organs.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati is also a member of two other notable organizations, these non-governmental. He is one of the founders of the Haghani seminary in Qom, which has as senior members Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi as well as Ayatollah Jannati. This school follows the teachings of both Yazdi and Jannati, as well as the late Ayatollah Ghodousi, and the late Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti.

This seminary is said to be protective of the concept of rule by clerics (velayat-e faqih), and certainly has a number of members who have held or are holding positions of significant influence within and without the state system.

During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, this group had members within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Intelligence (4). It also includes Hossein Shariatmadari, who is the editor-in-chief (5) of one of Iran’s most prominent newspapers, Kayhan. The seminary is said to have been mainly supportive of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the 2005 and 2009 presidential elections.

Jannati is also head of the Islamic Propagation Organization, established during Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s time, in 1981. The written guiding principles of the organization were approved and signed off by one of the first Supreme Leader’s, Imam Khomeini’s, representatives in 1989.

The organization’s stated principles and activities include propagation of a political and militant religious belief via publications and cultural events while actively opposing other religious and political currents. It seeks to mobilize people in a fight against “the mysterious and known circles who are working against Islam and the revolution.” (6).

Jannati has also acted as the temporary head of the capital city of Tehran’s Friday prayers, and has been sent out as an envoy to foreign countries such as Armenia, India, and Bosnia. All Friday prayer leaders are appointed by the supreme leader, and can serve as a mantle from which to articulate directions on social and political life. Jannati, like other prayer leaders, has done this on numerous occasions, such as speaking in regards to Iranian policy toward Iraq in 2008 (7), and accusing the US and Britain of responsibility for growing civilian deaths in Iraq in 2007 (8).


(First published at Elm-e Iran)



(1) A profile of Iran’s political system is available in an earlier article written for

(2) Fikret Ertan, ‘Rafsanjani’s comeback.’ Today’s Zaman, September 9, 2007,

(3) Vahid Sepehri, ‘Iran: Political Veteran to Chair Clerical Assembly.’ Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, September 7, 2009,

(4) Ali Mohammadi (ed.), ‘Iran Encountering Globalization: Problems and Prospects.’ Routledge, February 20, 2003,

(5) PBS interview with Hossein Shariatmadari. August 1, 2007,

(6) Secretariat of Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, ‘Islamic Propagation Organization.’

(7) The Guardian, ‘American jets attack Basra.’ March 28, 2008.

(8) Xinhua, ‘Iran calls for US withdrawal from Iraq ahead of security conference.’ March 10, 2007,

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Nima Maleki

Nima Maleki is a policy analyst and consultant, currently the Director of Research and Community Engagement for the not-for-profit Maple Key. His writings focus on international relations and the impact...