April 19th was the 82nd birthday of the Ayatollah Khamenei — although many official documents give his birthdate as July 17th.
The Ayatollah does not celebrate his birthday. He finds the entire discussion around birthdays to be a waste of time and money.
When, in 2007, a large party was organized in honor of his birthday, the Ayatollah was not at all pleased. In fact, he was livid. It was billed as the party of all parties, the event of the year. Select Iranian officials were invited. People of rank and influence scurried for an invite.
But when news of the planned event reached him, the Supreme Leader put the kibosh on the festivity. He wrote a public statement and issued it to Iranian national news outlets expressing his feelings.
This is what he wrote: "This is wrong; this birthday and similar events are not worth of celebrating. The organizers of this event are responsible for having wasted time and public property … I'll never be thankful to the person celebrating my birthday and will only consider him responsible for this act of wasting."
In this respect, the Supreme Leader is not alone. There are many people who, for any variety of reasons, shun birthdays and birthday celebrations. What makes this aversion to the celebration noteworthy, however, is not the 'no party' rule. What makes this non-celebration worth mentioning is the fact that we do not really know the true date of the Ayatollah Khamenei's birth.
Which date is correct?
The entire episode gives us increased insight into Iran. Which is his correct date of birth? The Ayatollah's website, the official website of his office lists April 19th as his birth date. But the official website of the Islamic Republic lists July 17th. If this discrepancy were only discovered now, we would label it fake news. Of course, we could always check Wikipedia!
Why the confusion?
The insight we gain from this, first and foremost, is that Iran is a secretive society on issues of import and even on trivial issues and that philosophy comes straight from the top. Next is that these details are not the least bit important to the leader of Iran, and he does not want them to be a part of the culture of Iran or of import to the society he rules over. The Ayatollah is trying to teach his followers that birthday celebrations are meaningless.
In the eyes of the Ayatollah the waste is not just in time and money but — more importantly, in priorities. So much more could have been done with the time that was wasted in preparation of the birthday bash.
This year I am certain that there was no celebration, perhaps not even any mention of the significance of the day. This is a very difficult year for Iran and the Ayatollah knows it. Coronavirus alone has beaten Iran very hard, taking not just average Iranians but many of the Ayatollah's inner circle and outer circles. The U.N. and U.S. sanctions continue to hurt Iran. And the worst of it all, for Iran, is the drop in oil prices.
Oil has been Iran's only real source of income. They have exported some oil legally and some illegally. They successfully figured out how to end-around sanctions by using tankers that turned off their GPS so that they could not be tracked and by shipping oil out to India and to China in the east.
The Ayatollah knows there is a growing youth culture in Iran that is growing more and more restless with each passing year. The youth of Iran love their country but they feel constricted. They yearn for more freedom, especially cultural freedom. They want internet, music, movies.
The Ayatollah Khamenei believes that the government he leads is the best government for his people.
The Ayatollah has chosen to repress these cravings using violence and prison as tools of intimidation. So far, his method has been successful, but he has to be asking himself how long it will keep working.
When coronavirus first hit, the Ayatollah chose to ignore the pandemic, hoping it would go away. Then he blamed it on America. Anything so that his government would not be blamed. The fear was that if the government was blamed the masses might rise up and unseat the leadership. Only after it was unavoidable did the Supreme Leader step up and confront the situation. He changed tactics. Leadership stepped in. Social distancing was mandated. A public health policy was initiated.
The Ayatollah has most certainly concluded that openness to the West in the form of the policies, behaviors and attitudes of President Rouhani — the man he selected for office —did not bring the results they promised. It is very likely that next year will see a more conservative Iran.
Iran will turn more insular and become more aggressive. Iranian leadership will try hard to antagonize their enemies, especially the United States, and will try to find trusted allies who will help them, both by attacking the United States and by funneling them trade and resources in exchange for oil.
A big question mark will remain. The date of his birth might be in question, but not the year. Any way you look at it, the Supreme Leader of Iran is in his 80s. How long will he be capable of maintaining his rule? If he has chosen a successor, he has kept that decision a secret.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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