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October 19, 2010

Khamenei is now following you on Twitter


Everyone in Qom, get out your cell phones and cameras, because the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei wants you to send him your videos and pictures of him when he visits today so that he can post them on his website.
Ironic that Khamenei is suddenly a champion of citizen journalism, considering that he and his government were attacking and silencing Iranians who tweeted, blogged, took videos, and emailed pictures during the 2009 election aftermath.
But a major PR blitz is underway as Ayatollah Khamenei ventures to Qom today, his 3rd official visit to Qom since his appointment as Supreme Leader in 1989, including the calls for Iranians to get involved through social media, and a campaign to paint people’s cars and vehicles calling Khamenei an Imam.
How can Khamenei promote social media when, at the same time he has a cyber police task force, stomping on people’s doorsteps anytime someone sends an email to their cousin in America insulting the Iranian government? This is the same government that worked to permanently suspend Gmail, filters the internet, and recently began blocking the web page of its former President. But now the Supreme Leader tweets.
Public relations stunts aside, there has been some speculation as to why Khamenei has decided to visit Qom now during such an interesting political climate both internationally and domestically. The main reason behind his visit seems to be because he’s getting a lot of criticism from the clerics. About two weeks ago, Ayatollah Ali-Mohammad Dastgheib criticized Khamenei for taking his role as Supreme Leader too far. He insinuated in a dense theological verdict, that the Supreme Leader’s role is technically more limited then the current role he plays. According to Dastgheib, Khamenei’s role is “to coordinate the efforts of the three branches of government and to prevent the violation of citizens’ rights by the three branches.” In addition, a group of dissident clerics issued a letter warning the community of clerics of Khamenei’s visit. Other critics of Khamenei include, Ayatollah Yusef Sanei and Ayatollah Assad Bayat-Zanjani.
With sanctions and nuclear pressure on the rise, not to mention upcoming talks with the P5+1 countries in November, it seems that Khamenei wants to unify the clerics to stand against “western influence”. But at the same time, he is trying to harness the same social media tools that are derided as being “western influence” when Iranians use them to promote civil rights.  Khamenei has said that “the media is more powerful and dangerous than nuclear weapons.” By getting into social media, it seems what he is trying to do is, “keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.”

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