Abbas Milani

Is Khamenei the New Putin?

In Shiism, there is a strange concept called “Mohallel.” If a man divorces his wife in earnest—“thrice-divorced” in the parlance of Shiite Sharia—he can’t remarry her unless she has married and divorced another man. Rich men who divorce their wives in a fit of madness and then feel remorse and want them back often have to pay a reliable man a sum to be their Mohallel—“marry” the thrice-divorced wife with due discretion and then divorce her. There is a usually a retinue of “reliable” Mohalells in each pious community.

Russia and Iran are both ruled by men seeking absolute power—Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran. And both are now shedding any vestige of a democratic appearance. Putin’s Mohallel, Dmitry Medvedev, will be prime minister and his boss, Putin, will again take the reins of power. In Tehran, Khamenei is making his own powerplay—and all of this is likely to help the clerics achieve their dubious nuclear aims.

In the past four years, if there has been an obvious area of difference between Putin and Medvedev, it has been on Iran’s clerical regime. Medvedev has been more willing to work with the United States and the European Union on pressuring Iran to give up troubling aspects of its nuclear program. He even decided not to sell the clerical regime the S-300 missiles that would have substantially increased Iran’s ability to protect its nuclear sites from air attacks.

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