In April 2019, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, appointed Ahmad Marvi to be the Custodian of the Astan Quds Razavi; a multi-billion-dollar trust only for the holy shrine of the eighth Imam of Shi’a Islam, in the city of Mashad, in northeastern Iran’s Khorasan province.
In Marvi’s appointment decree, Khamenei stated, “the degree of your honesty and faith has been proven to us during our long period of cooperation. I would like to remind you that we expect you to use all your capabilities to serve the pilgrims, utilize the cultural capacity of Astan Quds, guard and protect the unique treasures of architecture and calligraphy in the complex of buildings and endowments, and organize the business enterprises and services.”
Despite their longtime and constant presence in the Supreme Leader’s household and entourage, various people like Marvi have fallen under the radar. He has been associated with Khamenei for almost a half century, and from time to time, and on various occasions, he reveals previously unheard stories about his master. If one looks at images of Khamenei’s trips around the provinces, Marvi can often be spotted nearby.
He was born in 1958 in Mashad. His friendship with Khamenei, who was born in the same city, dates back to the early 1970s, when Marvi was a teenager. In a recent interview, Marvi said “Before the revolution, I used to attend his [Khamenei’s] lectures in the mosques and his speeches at his home. Our acquaintance goes back to 1973, but our professional relationship began in March 1989.”
Marvi has held various posts in Khamenei’s offices overseeing various religious observances. Marvi also served as political deputy of the Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office between 1980 and 1985.
Marvi’s father, Yahya, ended up abandoning his career as a cleric due to economic problems and became a trader in religious goods, before dying in 1977. In the years leading up to the Islamic revolution, Yahya and Ahmad’s older brother, Mohammad Hadi, occasionally hosted a young cleric who was trying to showcase himself as literary and artistic and generally different from other clergymen. That was Ali Khamenei.
Mohammad Hadi Marvi entered the Mashad and then Qom seminaries, where during the mid-1960s to 1979 became involved in revolutionary activities. In Qom, he married the daughter of the radical cleric Ayatollah Abolqasem Khazali. After the Revolution, Mohammad Hadi got to know firebrand clerics such as Mohammad Beheshti and Morteza Motahari, and was elevated to important positions. In addition to teaching at Imam Sadeq University, he was director of the Supreme Judicial Disciplinary Tribunal, the First Deputy Chief of the Judiciary, and was on the Commission for the Transfer of Judges. Mohammad Hadi Marvi died of a brain hemorrhage in 2007, and Ali Khamenei sent his brother and family a condolence message.
After beginning his education at Asgariyeh Theological School, Ahmad Marvi went to the Mashhad Seminary. He took his first courses in high level theological education at the Nawab Seminary, and the Ayatollah Milani Theological School. Then, he went to the Qom Seminary and studied at the Boroujerdi School. His teachers there included Hossein-Ali Montazeri, the Shiite jurist who would play an important role in the 1979 Islamist revolution. Marvi holds a degree in “high levels of principles and jurisprudence” from the Qom Seminary. He also received his MA and Ph.D. in Theology and Islamic Studies from the University of Qom.
At the age of sixteen and seventeen, Marvi would occasionally exchange letters between the revolutionary clerics in Qom and Ali Khamenei. As such, he found his way to Khamenei’s private home on Khosravi-No Street in Mashhad, and more importantly, he also gained Khamenei’s trust. Additionally, the long-standing acquaintance of the young Khamenei with Ahmad’s father and brother deepened this trust.
During the 1980s, Marvi’s older brother, Mohammad Hadi was Ayatollah Khomeini’s then-representative in the southern cities of Behbahan and Masjed’e Soleyman. At Mohammad Hadi’s request, Ahmad went to Masjed-Soleyman in order to coordinate Islamist propaganda against the liberal and leftist groups in that region.
In the summer of 1989, Khamenei became the supreme leader of the Islamic regime after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. Six months later, he brought Ahmad Marvi from Mashhad into his household, a household that was not then as large as it is today. Marvi later recounted his role in shaping Khamenei’s household: “The Supreme Leader’s Household did not have its present framework during those years. This framework and structure have been gradually set up for the office. We worked in different capacities until the office was almost formed and found its structure.”
As such, the leader’s household rapidly and considerably expanded, and Ahmad Marvi was soon appointed to the post that he held for the past quarter century, namely the Deputy Chief for Communications with Seminaries. Marvi has since proven himself to be one of the Supreme Leader’s closest advisers. While his position as the Deputy Chief of Communications with Seminaries ostensibly concerns the relationship between elderly clerics in Qom and Ali Khamenei, his duties sometimes go beyond his official position. After the disputed 2009 presidential election, and on the eve of Khamenei’s visit to Qom in the fall of 2010, it was rumored that some of the city’s clerics would not welcome the leader in protest against his suppression of the protests. Ahmad Marvi contacted the clerics beforehand, assessed the situation, and informed the Supreme Leader’s household of conditions on the ground.
Marvi considers his most important duty, however, to be creating an image of Khamenei as a kindly, mystical and even sacred person. In that regard, Marvi also strongly advocates for Khamenei’s sons. He usually speaks on three topics: living a simple life; tolerance for criticism; and the sons of the Supreme Leader.
Khamenei lives a simple lifestyle, according to Marvi. For example, he always quotes Khamenei as saying, “Is it really necessary for our room to be furnished with carpeted recliners? Can’t we just use a simple recliner? Should it be carpeted? Should it be expensive? I think we only need a recliner so that our guests won’t have to lean on the wall.” He also claims that Khamenei has said that he has nothing more than “a handwoven carpet” in his house, which is his wife’s “dowry.” And although “it has now become threadbare,” they still keep it “because it is a memorial.” Other than that, “the entire house has been carpeted with moquette.”
Additionally, Marvi quotes some of the employees of the Supreme Leader’s household as saying that the only piece of “furniture” in the leader’s house is “a secondhand couch that we had repaired and pulled a piece of cloth on it and brought to the Supreme Leader.” He repeatedly emphasizes that Khamenei’s life is “quite ascetic,” wherein “there has been no change in quality, in comparison to the times prior to the revolution.” According to Marvi, Khamenei’s wife even refuses to keep chinaware at home.
In regard to Khamenei and his family’s financial affairs and personal spending, Marvi has said “the Supreme Leader benefits from the least amount of endowments,” and “he never uses the endowments meant for the public.” Marvi adds that he has personally conveyed the people’s curiosity about Khamenei’s monthly salary to him, to which the leader replied, “Am I doing anything to merit a salary?”
In addition to attributing a simple life to Khamenei, Marvi often tries to portray the leader of the Islamic regime as an individual who is tolerant of criticism, agreeable, and given to consultation. As he says, “The leader’s heart is clear of any grudge and ill will towards anyone. Indeed it is plain like a mirror.”
Marvi has also claimed that Khamenei repeatedly emphasizes that all complaints from the people should be addressed: “The Supreme Leader says that ‘the one who has sent us a letter has obviously already referred to other authorities and received no positive response. Our household is their last resort. They have sought sanctuary with us. So, we must listen to what they say.” Despite this claim, there are numerous cases of letters written to the leader’s household going unanswered. One example is the family of Saeed Zeinali, a student who was detained during the student protests of July 1999, and then disappeared forever. So far, the family’s complaint against Khamenei to the Assembly of Experts has not received any response.
One time, during a routine hike in the mountains, Marvi claims that the security forces prevented an individual from approaching Khamenei, but he reprimanded his bodyguards, saying “Why did you block his way? If this gentleman came and slapped me in the face, it would be more tolerable to me than what you made him do.”
In another sermon, Marvi claims that during one of Khamenei’s public audiences, some distance from Tehran, someone in the crowd made some “insults” against him, and was then arrested, but Khamenei told his close associates: “If they arrested and imprisoned him for my sake and for disturbing my speech, tell the Guards to release him tonight, because I cannot go to sleep until he is released.”
Khamenei and his wife, Mansoureh Khojasteh Bagherzadeh, have two daughters, Boshra and Hoda, and four sons, Mostafa, Mojtaba, Massoud and Meysam. There was not much information available on these six for a long time. Mojtaba’s first appearance in Iranian media came after the 2005 presidential elections when Mehdi Karroubi, a candidate protesting the election results, in an open letter to Khamenei accused his son, along with the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, of interfering in the elections to aid Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After the disputed 2009 presidential election, Mojtaba Khamenei once again made news headlines as one of the main actors behind the suppression of the popular protests, known as the Green Movement.
In recent years, Marvi has been struggling to paint a saintly picture of the Supreme Leader’s children. He describes the sons of Ali Khamenei as emanating “religion, purity, asceticism, insensibility to the world, and lack of interest in world affairs and facilities.” Marvi adds, “The truth is that the sons of the Supreme Leader are very good; they have been well-educated in every way. Indeed they are in this position, and they have a lot of possibilities … But we really do not see them using these perks.” Emphasizing that “I am quite familiar with them,” Marvi claims that he had never even seen them “talking about money, perks, and so on,” so much so that Mostafa lives in a “tenant’s residence” in Qom. (Mostafa Khamenei, the eldest son of the Supreme Leader, is married to Ayatollah Azizollah Khoshvaght’s daughter.) According to Marvi, Khamenei’s sons are not only “not employed anywhere,” but even “have no official capacity in the office of Khamenei” and “only work on the publication of their father’s writings.”
However, the portrait that Marvi paints of the regime’s Supreme Leader and his family is completely false. In contrast to Marvi’s memoirs that attempt to portray the Supreme Leader as a generous figure, Khamenei is in fact one of the most vengeful leaders in the world. Iran, under the rule of Ali Khamenei’s Islamic regime, is one of top three countries in the world for imprisoning journalists. Iran also has one of the highest execution rates in the world, and one of the most authoritarian political structures. All this clearly shows the extent of the leader’s tolerance towards his opponents and critics.
Ali Khamenei is not at all lenient, not only as regards his opposition, but also in regard to reformists who define themselves as “inside the system.” He has described Mohammad Khatami as an “agitator,” and “subversive towards the revolution.” Even after Khatami sent him numerous requests to visit him after his prostate surgery in September 2014, Khamenei refused to receive the reformist former president.
As for the claim that the regime leader and his children lead a simple life, the truth is that Khamenei runs a financial empire. Marvi’s stories about Khamenei and his children being unconcerned with worldly wealth can be countered with the fact that, after 30 years of his leadership, Khamenei has not even presented a report and audit of the economic activities of his household.
As Bamdad News discussed, in a special report in April 2013, the regime leader, through the Ray investment group, which is one of the holdings under his supervision, is the official representative of BMW in Iran. This investment group, owned by Abdolazim Hassani’s endowment, is involved in various sectors of the Iranian economy, such as oil and gas, exports and imports, agriculture, the food industry, petrochemicals, insurance, and transportation. The Ray investment group is run by former security figures close to Khamenei.
Banking is another important component of the Supreme Leader’s financial empire. Research indicates that Ali Khamenei is the main shareholder of the Parsian, Karafarin, and Sina banks; these seemingly private-owned banks are actually the financial arms of the Supreme Leader’s household and the Revolutionary Guards.
On November 13, 2013, Reuters released a detailed report on the massive economic activities of the entities under the Islamic regime’s leader’s control. In particular, the “Bureau for the Execution of Imam’s Command” provides “an independent source of funds to support Ayatollah Khamenei.” Referring to the extensive economic activities of this center in various sectors, such as banking, finance, oil, telecommunications, production of birth control pills, and even ostrich breeding, the report estimates the value of the bureau’s assets as up to $95 billion.
Marvi’s positions, on all issues, are completely in line with Khamenei’s, sometimes even sharper than his. Marvi regularly uses the regime leader’s favorite words, such as “enemy” and “insight.” He explicitly states that “all affairs should be in line with the views of his eminence the Supreme Leader;” and there is currently a kind of “emotional bond between the Guardian Jurist and the people.” He regards Khamenei’s position as equal to that of the first Shi’a Imam, and calls for absolute compliance with the Supreme Leader’s injunctions.
Like his leader, Marvi says that the condition of women under the Islamic regime is highly desirable, as opposed to their conditions in the West: “We must ask questions about the rights of women in the Western world, and not be answerable to the West. We must drag them to court because they have done a great deal of harm to a large section of society.”
Marvi is also strongly opposed to technology and other manifestations of the modern world, as Khamenei is. He regards “promoting the satellite, the Internet, cyberspace and social networks” as “an enemy conspiracy to spread moral and cultural laxity in society,” and in contrast believes that the contemporary youth must have “insight.” While fully at the beck and call of the Supreme Leader, since July 2008, Marvi has become a member of the central council of the “Combatant Clerics’ Society,” the political party of conservative clerics.
Ahmad Marvi is definitely one of the people who, behind the scenes, play a significant role in Iranian politics, and its’ backroom machinations. Marvi’s closeness to Khamenei and his children makes him a figure that cannot be ignored when analyzing the Islamic regime.