Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attended a scheduled religious ceremony on Saturday where he spoke, despite recent rumors and reports of “grave illness”.
There was no mention that he would be speaking at the gathering when the news of his presence at the ceremony emerged. In fact, he was not sitting at his usual spot, facing the crowd. But according to media in Tehran, he gave a short address at the end, after the scheduled mourning ceremony.
The ceremony was held to mark Arbaeen with members of Basij militia from Iranian universities. Arbaeen is the 40th day after the death of the third Shiite Imam, Hussain Ibn Ali, who was killed in a power rivalry by the reigning caliph in a clash in Karbala in 680 AD.
According to the official news agency IRNA, in his short address Khamenei preached about Arbaeen and its significance and urged the Basij students to keep the Shia tradition alive.
The Iranian leader’s official website, Khamenei.ir, had announced Friday that he would be hosting a group of students at Imam Khomeini Hoseinieh, a gathering hall adjacent to his residence and office in central Tehran.
Iran's 83-year-old leader had not appeared in public for over two weeks after a visit to the religious city of Mashhad, his birth city, to attend a ritual at the Shrine of Imam Reza.
Khamenei sitting to the far right of the hall as a preacher speaks at the traditional manbar
Khamenei’s office even cancelled his annual meeting in early September with members of the Assembly of Experts (AoE) whose only responsibilities is selecting a successor for the Supreme Leader and disqualifying an existing one. One of the members of the assembly explained the cancellation as their wish not to put “a heavy burden” on Khamenei.The cancellation of the meeting with the Assembly, as well as at least one other scheduled meeting fueled rumors and suspicions that he was very sick or even dead.
The New York Times on Friday quoted four people familiar with Khamenei’s health condition as saying that he is gravely ill and is currently on bed rest under observation by a team of doctors, adding his appointments have been cancelled. But Khamenei public appearance Saturday put the NYT report in doubt.
Assembly of Experts spokesman, Ahmad Khatami, said September 7 that the members of the assembly had discussed the criteria for choosing the next leader during the previous week and said recent public discussions about Supreme Leader’s succession were simply rumors. Khatami did not elaborate, but it was obvious that he was speaking about widespread discussions on social media about Ali Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, being groomed to be the country's next leader.
On August 9 Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a prime minister in the 1980s who has been under house arrest since February 2011, had published a scathing attack hinting at plans for Khamenei’s son to succeed him and warned the nation over an alleged ‘hereditary leadership’ scheme.Hardliners focused on other topics in Mousavi’s note and fiercely attacked him but made no mention of the succession issue.
In recent weeks there has also been claims that Khamenei has delegated the responsibility for the nuclear talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. (JCPOA) to President Ebrahim Raisi.
If true, the handover of the responsibility gives rise to speculations whether the leader delegated part of his authority because of a medical emergency, or to shift the responsibility to Raisi to remain in a position to criticize any possible deal, if things did not work well.