Pictures released from Iranian cabinet ministers' meetings with the nation's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, often show little-known men in the back rows who appear to be watching the ministers as observers, or rivals.
These men are Khamenei's own ministers — a hidden government rooted in his office, with arms extending to almost every government institution.
This complex, multilayer network of special advisers and confidants, led by Khamenei's sons, is part of Khamenei's security and supervisory network. Here's a profile of its structure:
Spiritual leader, and much more
According to Iranian constitutional law, the supreme leader is the nation's highest-ranking official. He is "the Imam of the Ummah," meaning the spiritual leader of the nation.
The supreme leader is also responsible for:
— Delineating general policies of Iran after consultation with the Expediency Discernment Council, and supervising the implementation of the general policies of the political system.
— Issuing decrees for national referenda.
— Acting as commander in chief of the armed forces, with the power to declare war and peace, and to mobilize the armed forces.
— Appointing, dismissing and accepting the resignation of the fuqaha, or the Guardian Council, the supreme judicial authority of the country, the head of the state radio and television network, the chief of the joint staff of the armed forces, the chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the supreme commanders of the armed forces.
— Resolving differences among the three wings of the armed forces, regulating their relations and resolving their problems that cannot be solved by conventional methods through the Expediency Discernment Council.
— Endorsing presidential elections.
— Dismissing the president, with due regard for the interests of the country, if the Supreme Court finds him guilty of violating his constitutional duties, or after a vote of the Islamic Consultative Assembly testifying to his incompetence.
— Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts.
The supreme leader may delegate part of his duties and powers to another person. However, it is the supreme leader's office that maintains his links to the network of military, security, cultural, economic and political institutions via his advisers.
Greater role than president
Through this network, Khamenei micromanages all parts of the government. His office also has a cultural and news dissemination office that controls the media. In this way, Khamenei's office plays a far more important role than the administration of President Hassan Rouhani by intervening in all affairs of the state.
This is what makes it a hidden government that intervenes in every decision for the state, from major political and economic policymaking to the implementation of the smallest projects.
Khamenei's office also intervenes in legislating. During the past two decades, politicians have noted that his family members, particularly his son Mojtaba, have been exercising their influence in the affairs of the state.