“Pity an Islamic society if even the possibility is raised that someone like me can be its leader.”

These are the shocking words that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke on June 4, 1989 during a crucial meeting of the Assembly of Experts (AOE), the body tasked with finding a successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic and its first Supreme Leader, who had died the day before. Khamenei was not merely making a pretence of Persian humility, he was arguing that his selection as leader would contradict the constitution — and that clerics wouldn’t obey him because he wasn’t a senior enough cleric.

“I don’t deserve this position,” Khamenei, who was at the time Iran’s president, said. “My leadership would be ceremonial and not genuine.”

These words remained hidden from the public eye for more than 28 years. And then, on Tuesday, January 9, 19 minutes of filmed footage — including this statement — were leaked to Washington DC-based journalist Shahed Alavi.

Alavi, who is known for his Kurdish-language work for the Congressional-funded broadcaster Voice of America, says the footage was sent to him from Iran and that those who sent it intended for it to be published as fast as possible. Speculations abound as to the possible source of the leak, with some mentioning those close to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a possibility.

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