Who is Mohammad Khatami?

By Ali Safavi

Mohammad Khatami was born in 1943 in Ardakan, in the central province of Yazd. His
father was a cleric and Khatami completed his religious studies up to the lower
intermediate level at Qom’s theological school. In 1978, a short while before the
overthrow of the shah’s regime, he went abroad to administer the mosque for Iranians in
Hamburg, Germany.

Khatami’s stature within the Shiite hierarchy is low because he has not sufficiently
studied the classical religious curricula. Another factor that works against him compared
with Khamenei, Rafsanjani and other leading clerics is that he has no record of political
activity before the anti-monarchic revolution. Even in the first years after the mullahs
came to power, he remained obscure, until the parliamentary elections in 1980, when he
was elected as candidate of the Islamic Republican Party (set up at the time by
Khomeini’s decree) from his hometown of Ardakan.

In the Majlis, Khatami was known as an active member of the Line of the Imam, the
dominant grouping within the Islamic Republican Party most closely identified with
Khomeini’s policies. This faction was distinct from other factions for its absolute
obedience to Khomeini’s leadership, its opposition to individual and social freedoms
under the pretext that they were “manifestations of liberalism,” its emphasis on a
centralized statist economy and its commitment to Khomeini’s doctrine of exporting
“Islamic revolution.”

During those years, extensive feuding prevailed among the fundamentalists and those
opposed to Khomeini’s theory of government, called velayat-e faqih, or absolute clerical
supremacy in government. In his speeches and writings in the Majlis, Khatam quickly
established himself as an active proponent of the velayat-e faqih theory of “Islamic
government” and Khomeini’s unchallenged leadership. For this reason, when the
journalists at Kayhan, the largest daily in the country, rebelled against government
attempts to dominate the paper, Khomeini overlooked Khatami’s junior ranking within
the clerical hierarchy and appointed him as his personal representative to overtake
Kayhan, purge its journalists and turn the paper into a “Hezbollahi” publication.
Khomeini wrote in his decree: “In view of your competence and your expertise in this
field, I hereby appoint you to the post of supervising Kayhan newspaper which belongs to
the oppressed.”

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