Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Makhmalbaf: Secrets of Khamenei's life - part 1 - His interests

This is part 1 of a 4-part series.
For part 2 - His entourage and Household operations, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, internationally renowned filmmaker and the Iranian opposition's main spokesman abroad since the disputed presidential election, posted an article, entitled 'The secrets of Khamenei's life,' on his web site on Monday, December 28, 2009. Makhmalbaf has been living in exile in Paris. The original article in Farsi can be read here.

The following is a translation of the first part of the article. My notes are in italics.

Note: The term 'beyteh rahbari' has been translated as the Leader's Household in the broadest sense, which includes Ali Khamenei's personal office and inner circle.

The Secrets of Khamenei's Life

Mohsen Makhmalbaf

I compiled this text which is based on information relayed to me by former staff members of the Leader's Household and the Intelligence Ministry who have escaped abroad.

After the Shah and Khomeini, Khamenei is the individual who has most affected the public and private lives of Iranians in the past several decades. He is the person who more than any other knows about the lives of this or that individual through his intelligence apparatus. But very few people know the details about his home, family, connections, interests, or work habits. This excessive secretiveness has been a deliberate choice made by him and his system. By being shrouded in secrecy, he has derived a religious charisma among his followers and a sinister quality among the people.

This article aims to reveal the truth about Khamenei through first-hand sources. This disclosure is free of the constant expressions of hatred of these past days or the infatuation of his fanatical supporters.

His daily schedule
4:00 AM rises from sleep and engages in prayer
6:00 to 6:30 AM meeting with Hejazi (his chief of staff) (NB Asghar Hejazi)
6:30 to 7:00 AM meeting with Vahid (executive deputy of the Leader's Household)
7:00 to 8:00 AM meeting with Mojtaba (his second son), three times a week. (Mojtaba teaches at the Ghom seminaries about 150 days a year, but on all other days meets with his father every morning.)
8:00 to 10:30 AM reviews intelligence, political, and economic reports.
10:30 to 12:00 PM midday nap and rest
12:00 to 1:00 PM communal prayer and lunch
1:00 to 3:00 PM indispensable meetings (which vary and mostly concern the resolution of unexpected crises)
3:00 to 5:00 PM personal matters
5:00 to 8:00 PM special meetings (these encounters are described in the weekly and monthly schedules)
8:00 to 8:30 PM dinner
8:30 to 9:00 PM listens to the latest recordings
9:00 PM prepares for bed

Khamenei's weekly schedule
(NB The Iranian workweek is Saturday to Wednesday, and the weekend is Thursday to Friday)
1. Sunday afternoons, meetings with military commanders (NB This could be a typo and may refer to Saturday afternoons)
2. Sunday afternoons, meetings with Sepah (NB Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) commanders
3. Monday dinners, meetings with the president
4. Tuesday morning, meetings with officials about his own financial matters (Hassan Khamenei (his brother), Mir Mohammadi, Mojtaba Khamenei, and Commerce Minister Shariatmadar (NB Possibly referring to Mohammad Shariatmadar, former commerce minister of reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Shariatmadar was a member of Khamenei's representative office for Hajj pilgrimage affairs from 1991.)
5. Tuesday dinners, meetings with [Assembly of Experts and Expediency Council chief] Hashemi Rafsanjani.
6. Wednesday afternoons, meetings with members of the Guardian Council.
7. Wednesday nights, dinner with Jannati (NB Head of the Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati)

Monthly schedule
1. Meeting with the head of the Majlis (NB Ali Larijani)
2. Meeting with the head of the judiciary (NB Sadegh Larijani)
3. Meetings with religious advisers (individuals who come from Ghom, like Moghtadeie and Yazdi (NB Possibly referring to Ayatollah Morteza Moghtadeie, head of the conservative Teachers' Association of Ghom Seminaries, and Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, ultra-conservative head of the Imam Khomeini Research Center in Ghom and a spiritual mentor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad))
4. Meetings with other advisers

Khamenei's personal interests

Doctors advised him to eat caviar and trout from the Lar river. In time, these two foods became personal favorites. Caviar is sent from Rasht by the city's Friday Prayer leader (NB Ayatollah Zeinolabedine Ghorbani, also Khamenei's representative in Gilan province). Pheasant meat is sent from Shiraz by Mr. Haeri (NB Possibly referring to Shiraz Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi). He also consumes quail and ostrich meat (to avoid cholesterol).

A $500,000 device has been bought from the United States to check Khamenei's food and make sure it is not poisoned. The food is tested after a certain substance is added to it. The cook must taste the food before anyone else, in the presence of bodyguards.

Hiking in the mountains and horse riding. In 1999, Khamenei fell from a horse because he rides with only one hand and broke his hand. (NB Khamenei's right hand has been disabled since an assassination attempt in 1981. A bomb hidden inside a tape recorder blew up as he gave a Friday Prayer sermon.) On long trips within Iran, for example to Mashhad, Khamenei and Mojtaba's personal horses are taken to the destination inside an A330 airplane. Three specially-equipped trucks are used for transporting horses on shorter hauls.

There are about 100 horses, whose estimated total value is $40 million. The most expensive horse is worth $7 million and is called Zuljanah (NB The white stallion of Imam Hossein. Imam Hossein's martyrdom in 680 AD is commemorated on Ashura.) Mojtaba's horse is called Sahand. The horses are kept in two stables, one in the Malek Abad estate in Mashhad which measures 10,000 square meters and houses 70 horses, and another in Lavasanat (NB North of Tehran), measuring 3,000 square meters and housing 30 horses.

View Malek Abad - Mashhad in a larger map

Gadeh (NB A corresponding English word does not exist. Gadehs are rowdy gatherings of clerics where everything but religion is discussed.)
Karim Shireyi, left, circa 1890
He sometimes engages in gadeh with Rashed Yazdi (A mullah who tells vulgar jokes) (NB Possibly Hojjatoleslam Rashed Yazdi, affiliated with the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad). Khamenei gets a good laugh out of these gatherings. (something that Karim Shireyi did for Nassereddine Shah (NB Karim Shireyi was the favorite court jester of Nassereddine Shah, a 19th-century king of the Ghajar dynasty. He was allowed to say anything about anyone, including the shah, in a particularly closed climate.)). Also by listening to the vulgar jokes which are a form of mental release, he takes the pulse of the country. Mohammadi Golpayegani and Vahid Haghanian also take part in these gadehs. (NB Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, head of the Leader's office). Sometimes [Guardian Council chief] Jannati is also invited and on those occasions he is usually mocked by Rashed. Mojtaba hates Khamenei's gadehs because he has no influence there and, in his absence, Rashed Yazdi can give economic and political advice and gain favors for this or that person.

Beyond reports and the press, Khamenei has very little time to read books. From the time he was president (NB 1981 - 1989), he has told people on numerous occasions that the disadvantage of the presidency is that it takes away the possibility to read. However, he does study some books on presidents and world leaders. More than anything, he is interested in the Ghajar period, especially during Nassereddine Shah's reign. He has read all books written about himself as well as those on the Shah (NB Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was deposed in the Islamic Revolution) and his family.

Pipe collection
Mashhad 1978, courtesy Abbas
Khamenei was initially a cigarette smoker. He quit cigarettes at the beginning of his presidency because it did not conform to the office's prestige. He did not want any photos of him with a cigarette to be published. During that time when he was still close to Prime Minister Mousavi (NB the current opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi), they both decided to quit smoking cigarettes at the same time and have not touched cigarettes since. But he still smokes a pipe. A photo of him with a pipe in his mouth was once published. A special pipe tobacco is prepared for him. He has about 200 pipes in his collection. All rumors about him smoking opium are lies. But he has ordered that poets close to him, such as Ali Moallem (NB Mohammad Ali Moallem Damghani, who was recently designated as Mir Hossein Mousavi's successor at the head of the Academy of Arts), Shahriar, and Sabzevari, to be allowed to indulge in their opium habits. He even ordered that opium be delivered to Shahriar's home as a gift from the Agha (NB Term which means sir and refers to Ali Khamenei). His pipes are estimated to be worth $2 million. Most of the pipes were given to him as presents. The most expensive pipe is worth $300,000 and is 300 years old. The stem of this pipe is gold-plated and encrusted with jewels. Some of the pipes were given to him as gifts by presidents and world leaders. The pipe-holders bear the names of the people who offered them.

Ring collection
There are about 300 rings in Khamenei's collection. Three were given to him by the Imam Reza Shrine authorities. The most expensive ring is worth $500,000 and boasts the oldest agate in the world. The collection is kept in the Leader's Household.

Cane collection
A few years ago, there were 170 antique canes in Khamenei's collection which was estimated at $1.2 million. The most expensive cane is worth $200,000. It is 170 years old and jewel-encrusted. On special occasions, he will give a cane, ring, or clerical cloak to someone as a present. Before the last presidential election in which Mir Hossein Mousavi was a candidate, he visited Mousavi's father and gave him a cane. Some people thought this was a sign that he agreed with [Mousavi's] candidacy. After [Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah] Khomeini's death, and at the beginning of his leadership, he sent a clerical cloak to Mr. Taheri, then Friday Prayer leader of Isfahan, because Taheri had been quoted as saying that when Khomeini had seen Khamenei on television during Khamenei's visit to India, he had said that Khamenei would make a good Leader. This same quote convinced the [Assembly of] Experts to vote for Khamenei. The footage of the Experts and the recital of this quote are available on YouTube.

He ususally gives gold coins as gifts to artists and poets who support him. He sometimes sends a check from the Leader's office. On occasion, some literary figures who flatter the regime are invited to the Household and are given prizes after reading their poems. (This tradition was common in the Ghajar courts, particularly that of Nassereddine Shah.)

Clerical cloak collection
There are about 120 cloaks worth about $400,000 in Khamenei's collection. The most expensive is worth $30,000. His favorite is a white cloak that he wears from time to time. The cloaks are made of camel hair.

Other interests
Rumors that he played the tar or sitar in his youth are false. But he was interested in music as a young man and listened to classical Iranian music. He used to like Shajarian's voice, but he dislikes him now because of Shajarian's political positions (NB Master Mohammad Reza Shajarian is one of the most acclaimed traditional Iranian singers. He has clearly sided with the opposition and openly demanded that the state media stop playing his songs). After becoming leader, and in particular in recent years, he has become increasingly opposed to music. He has spoken against music numerous times on television. This year, he ordered state radio-television to decrease its musical content in order to please his more religious followers.

In his youth, and perhaps simply because of his young age, he bought a red Volkswagen. He probably could not believe that years later during his own rule, some people would be held accountable simply because of the color of their automobiles.

In the report on Khamenei's past that Reyshahri prepared for Khomeini, references are made to two women who were temporarily wed to Khamenei (NB The term sigheh or temporary marriage refers to a form of prostitution allowed by Islam). These two women live in Mashhad.

Khamenei's interest in poetry began at a young age and has been maintained till today. He spent long hours at the poetry association of Mashhad. He has written some poems. He is delighted when poets write poetry about him and expresses his satisfaction through gifts to the poets. Sabzevari and Ali Moallem, who are among the fawning Muslim poets, are constantly corresponding with him. It is through them that he is informed of the problems of artists affiliated with the regime. At the start of his Leadership, he received the poet Mir Shakak, who was a manic depressive, several times. Khamenei became very proud of himself when Mir Shakak upon saying goodbye would say, 'Seyed zat ziad' (Meaning 'the honor is great', which is a colloquial prayer). Khamenei invites poets to his Household several times a year so that they may recite poems in his presence.

At the beginning of his presidency, he asked Akhavan Saless, whom he knew very well, to write a flattering poem for the revolution. Akhavan Saless (NB Mehdi Akhavan Saless, also known as M. Omid) responded, 'We artists are above the government, not with it.' Khamenei was so incensed by this answer that he ordered that he stop being paid. (NB Akhavan Saless worked at the Academy of Artists and Writers). Akhavan Saless became unemployed after that. Gheysar Aminpour has referred to this event in his article on Akhavan.

Khamenei intensely disliked Shamlou (NB Ahmad Shamlou, one of the most prominent Iranian poets of the last century) and referred to him with hatred. But he never dared arrest and punish him, because he feared tainting his own name in history. He has read much about kings who mistreated poets. In his speeches, he has often cited Lenin's phrase that if an ideology is not supported by art it will die. He loves poetry so much that if he had not become active in religion and politics, he would probably have turned to poetry and literature. However, because of his busy schedule, he sometimes makes glaring mistakes [in this regard]. Despite claiming to be knowledgeable about verse, when a young poet recited a poem in his presence, he asked him, 'Is this poem by you?' To which the poet responded, 'No, it is by Sohrab Sepehri.' (Any schoolchild knows Sepehri's work). 

This is part 1 of a series.
For part 2 - His entourage and Household operations, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 10 - Provisional list of dead protesters: death toll now at 8

(Updated Tuesday,29 December 2009)

The opposition has released a provisional list of protesters killed in today's demonstrations in Tehran. This is only a preliminary list and only concerns the day of Ashura, December 27, in the capital. A woman was allegedly shot and killed in Sirjan during protests yesterday, but she is not among these victims. According to Jonbesheh Raheh Sabz, they are:

- Mehdi Farhadinia, 34, Mehdi Farhadirad according to the Islamic Republic Police News Service
- Mohammad Ali Rasekhinia, 40
- Amir Arshadi, 30
- Shahram Faraji, 30
- Seyed Ali Habibi Mousavi (nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi), 42
- Jahanbakht Pazooki, 50
- According to the Islamic Republic Police News Service, an unidentified woman, 43, and man, 31 were also killed. It is unclear how the police could be so precise on their ages and not have their names. 

Please provide additional confirmed information you may have in the comments section or by email to me.

(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)