These days, Ali Khamenei must be a happy man. He has launched a campaign to cast himself as “Imam”, a title that Iranian Shiites reserve for the 12 descendants of Ali Ibn Abi-Talib, the fourth Caliph of Islam.
By calling himself “Imam”, Khamenei hopes to put himself above grand Ayatollahs as the highest echelon of Shiite clergy.
The title would enable Khamenei to pretend equality with the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi who is to return to rule the world.
Over the past two years, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his associates have spread the rumour that the Mahdi is about to return and that the faithful should look to him, and implicitly not to Khamenei, for instructions.
By becoming “Imam”, Khamenehi who has not completed a theological education and never worked as a theologian, creates a personal niche outside the Shiite hierarchy.
However, few in Iran would take his “Imam” title seriously.
Not a single Iranian cleric, even among those working for the government, is yet prepared to attach the title to Khamenei.
On 11 August, the Iranian daily Kayhan was forced to quote only two sources supporting the “Imam” title for Khamenei. One is the Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. He is quoted as saying “I kiss the hand of Imam Khamenei”. The other is an unnamed “leader of the Muslim Brotherhood” who told Kayhan “Imam Kham…