May 10, 2021

The Second Step of Iran’s Islamic Revolution: Exploring the Supreme Leader’s Worldview

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is increasing the prominence of ideology in Iran’s institutions and throughout its population as part of his effort to continue the 1979 Islamic Revolution and address Iran’s internal and external challenges. This ideological project is unlikely to succeed to the extent the Supreme Leader and his supporters envision but will still have significant effects on US-Iran relations. The Iranian regime’s increasing focus on ideology over pragmatism will complicate US efforts to deter, contain, and negotiate with Tehran.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei launched an initiative to increase the ideological indoctrination of Iran’s younger generation. This strategic effort, the “Second Step of the Revolution,” is part of a five-step vision that started with the 1979 Revolution and ends with the formation of an Iran-led transnational pan-Islamic civilization. Khamenei views the second step as his generational contribution to the revolutionary cause. He envisions the transformation of the world order and the destruction of the Western states paradigm through a process spanning five generations.[1]

The second step seeks in part to address a concern that Khamenei and many of his advisors frequently voice: The revolutionary ideals to which they have devoted their lives will erode or even disappear in a younger generation that has experienced neither the 1979 Revolution nor the formative Iran-Iraq war.[2] The nine-year Iran-Iraq war, called “the Sacred Defense or the Imposed War” because it began when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran mere months after the Iranian revolution, was a crucible experience for the Iranian regime’s current leadership.[3] It contributed powerfully to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) political dominance today and remains a touchstone to which the regime constantly refers.[4]

Khamenei has continually likened economic and psychological challenges from US pressure to this generation’s Iran-Iraq war.[5] Iranian leaders have long blamed domestic unrest and popular dissatisfaction on Western influence in their country, thereby externalizing their own domestic failings in a construct portraying  a continuous Western “soft war” or invasion of ideas and norms to justify greater social and ideational restriction.[6] Khamenei argues that the problems of the Islamic Republic today flow from inadequate revolutionary spirit among Iran’s younger generations, implying that Iranians today are not rising to meet their challenge with the same revolutionary zeal with which the revolution’s first generation confronted the Iraqi invasion.[7]

The second step is therefore primarily Khamenei’s response to recent domestic unrest and external pressure. Khamenei launched the “ideologization” effort in February 2019 to respond to unprecedented domestic and international challenges.[8] Momentous nationwide protests in late 2017 brought the regime’s core support base of religious and poor Iranians to the streets for the first time since the 1979 Revolution.[9] The Donald Trump administration also placed harsh sanctions on key sectors of Iran’s economy as part of its maximum-pressure campaign beginning in 2018. [10] Khamenei concluded that the solution to both problems lay in ideologizing Iran’s population.

Khamenei’s definition of the problem facing Iran and adoption of the second step as the solution emphasizes the degree to which he regards confrontation with the US as existential and permanent. He argues that Iran can derive more power and better stabilize itself against unrest he claims outsiders foment by confronting the West.[11] The second step does not require Iran to turn away negotiations, but it does mean negotiations will not lead to an end to confrontation and overt and covert military, cyber, and informational attacks on the US and American allies. Khamenei and his deputies believe these attacks are necessary to maintain domestic and international support for the regime and to respond to Western aggression they think will never end. Khamenei has also made clear that continuing this fight is essential to bringing about the global Iran-led Islamic order that he has defined as the culmination of the Iranian Revolution.[12] 

It is by no means clear that Khamenei’s indoctrination strategy will generate the necessary domestic support from the next generation and international support from revisionist powers and regional partners to stave off the challenges facing the regime. It will likely shape the regime’s approach to the US, the West, and the region for years to come, even after Khamenei’s passing. The new US administration must take this relatively new ideological offensive into account in formulating and executing its strategy for Iran, the nuclear deal, and the Middle East.

Read Further On:

The Hardline Shift in Iranian Politics

Understanding the Second Step

The Second Step Institutions

Implementing the Second Step


The Hardline Shift in Iranian Politics

A more ideological regime will likely be less pragmatic and less inclined to engage in meaningful behavior change outside limited parameters. The Iranian government and Western media often portray Iranians as victims who are making significant efforts to join the international community.[13] All high-level officials in the Iranian regime agree that Iran is unfairly targeted by the West but disagree about the strategy to confront this perceived victimization. Iran’s formal government, led by President Hassan Rouhani, has sought to lift international sanctions, claiming Iran is making every effort to abide by international norms and laws.[14] The American and European approaches to negotiating the nuclear agreement rely on the assumption that Iranian leaders seek to integrate Iran more fully into the global economy and the international community.

But Iranian hardliners, now in the ascendant, reject the idea that Iran should rejoin the international community, and the second step ideology formalizes and justifies this rejection. Hardliners on key regime bodies including the Guardian Council, Expediency Discernment Council, Supreme Leader’s Office and Armed Forces General Staff disagree with and regularly attack the Rouhani administration’s efforts to integrate Iran into the international community.[15] They have fought hard against legislation to bring Iran into compliance with international money-laundering and counter-trafficking laws, for example, jeopardizing Tehran’s ability to receive international financial assistance and economic benefits.[16]

Hardline Iranian leaders have used the second step concept to undermine and almost entirely neuter the Rouhani administration. The Obama administration negotiated with the Rouhani administration for years translating to a relatively productive tangible outcome—the Iran Nuclear Deal.[17] The second step construct has contributed to a more hostile and limited political playing field in Iran that favors autarkic (isolationist), anti-Western politicians who claim that the benefits of the deal are not worth the sacrifices it requires. Political attacks from Rouhani’s more conservative political opponents under the guise of this concept have already irreparably harmed Rouhani personally and his administration generally.[18] They have transformed the domestic political discourse in Iran in a way that will preclude a negotiations process similar to that which produced the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani and his relatively moderate administration have always had limited powers heading the ostensibly democratically elected formal government.[19] The formal government Rouhani heads has much more limited control over Iranian foreign and military policy than its titles suggest. The president is not in the military chain of command, for example, and can merely express opinions about what Iran’s foreign and security policies should be, while the Supreme Leader and the military forces that report directly to him are actually in control. The president sits on the Supreme National Security Council, which has significant decision-making influence, but intra-regime political attacks on Rouhani over the past few years and the looming end of his term in June 2021 have degraded his legitimacy and consequently likely his influence in these decision making circles.[20]

The hardliners are by no means a unitary group. Some favor strong military control over Iranian policy and are pushing for a president chosen from among several IRGC general officers.[21] Some favor more clerical control and a more assertive religious character to the regime.[22] Others advocate a relatively more Western-style government with both military and religious leaders remaining more in the background.[23] But the hardliners are united in their belief that the moderates, led by Rouhani, are corrupting the state and appeasing implacable enemies in the West.

Khamenei’s second step is intended to strengthen the hands of these hardliners by reinforcing the idea that the Islamic Republic’s raison d’être is to replace Western civilization with so-called Islamic civilization. It makes clear that the Supreme Leader stands with the hardliners against Rouhani in principle even if he is sometimes willing to make compromises on limited issues in practice, thereby diminishing the prospects of meaningful cooperation with the West let alone of integrating Iran into the international order.

The second step aims to “Islamize the system,” in part by limiting Western political influence in the presidency, parliament, and judiciary, targeting politicians who are sympathetic to the West or favor international outreach. Khamenei has branded the second step the “Islamization of the political system,” a process that will empower more ideologically committed officials in key positions throughout Iran’s political apparatus.[24] Those empowered by the second step mandate are longtime military hawks toward the West and claim Iran’s economic problems can be solved by domestic production rather than international cooperation.

Understanding the Second Step

Khamenei is philosophically advancing Ruhollah Khomeini’s ideology. Khomeini’s ideology, enshrined in the Islamic Republic’s constitution, was a transnational mission to counter the US and the West. [25] Khamenei takes the transnational mission to new levels, with a greater emphasis on exporting the revolution to extend the Islamic Republic structure and ideas beyond Iran’s borders.

“Khomeinism,” or Iranian Revolutionary ideology, is a branch of Shia philosophical thought that is highly influenced by Neoplatonism.[26] Khomeinism proclaims that a learned scholar should preside over a state.[27] The root of Khomeinism stems from Plato’s philosopher kings and, more specifically, from Abu Nasr al Farabi’s interpretation of peripatetic philosophy in On the Perfect State. Nasr articulates that an Islamic philosopher would lead the most virtuous state.[28]

Khamenei’s successive steps to achieve the ultimate political system incorporate more Islamic cosmology likely influenced by Persian Islamic cosmological philosophers such as Shihab al Din al Suhrawardi.[29] Suhrawardi’s Philosophy of Illumination describes successive steps that are inextricably dependent on constantly admiring and contemplating earlier steps. The emphasis on admiring earlier steps to achieve follow-on steps is fundamental to Khamenei’s fixation on looking at current and future problems through the lens of the Iran-Iraq war.

The steps of the revolution are centered on Khamenei’s perception that the Islamic Revolution is in a bipolar war with the US (framed as neo–cold war). The Islamic Revolution’s ultimate objective is a transnational “Islamic civilization” that will fundamentally shift the balance of power in the world and replace the modern states system. Khamenei describes the world stage since the fall of the Soviet Union as “the dichotomy between Islam and the Arrogant Powers.” Islam denotes Iran’s Islamic Republic and Arrogant Powers refers to the US, UK, and their Gulf allies.[30]

Khamenei asserts that the Islamic Republic has already succeeded in countering US unipolarity and now seeks to win the bipolar war. Khamenei and his deputies cite Iran’s success shooting down the US Global Hawk drone in summer 2019 and Iranian fuel transfers to Venezuela alongside powerful images of the US withdrawing from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria to prove that the US is no longer a unipolar power and that Iran is an equal and worthy opponent.[31] Iranian leaders also see the degradation of US hegemony by powers such as Russia and China as an opportunity to spread Iranian ideology.[32]

Khamenei’s stages of the revolution aim to create a transnational Islamic system in five generational steps. The first step was the Islamic Revolution (first 40 years), which Khomeini defined and carried out. The second step, Islamic and Revolutionary System, is meant to root out liberal actors and ideology in the Islamic Republic political system.[33]

The third step, Islamic and Revolutionary Government, seeks to change the structure of the regime and further limit or do away with the powers of Iran’s formal government. Iran’s leadership will decontaminate the Islamic Republic’s outward facing political body, the formal government, from Western ideology during this step. This aim requires first ensuring that the formal government leadership is entirely staffed with those in line with second step ideology and then likely doing away with the trappings of “Western” formal state structures in Iran.[34] The third step therefore likely requires a fundamental reconstruction of the Islamic Republic system of governance.

The fourth step, Islamic and Revolutionary Society, focuses on rooting out Western and liberal influence among all citizens in the Islamic Republic. It requires active participation from all Iranians. The fifth and final step, Islamic Civilization, would be the formation of a transnational Islamic civilization led by the Supreme Leader of Iran and replacing the current states system as we know it.[35]

The second step of the Revolution focuses on widespread, small-scale recruitment to indoctrinate youth to set conditions for successive steps. Sixty percent of Iran’s 80 million people are under age 30.[36] The Islamic Republic has not yet undergone meaningful generational turnover in its leadership because most of its leaders were young during the revolution and the Iran-Iraq War.[37] Much of Iran’s leadership not only remembers but was also intimately involved in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the war. But the mass of younger Iranians have no memory of either. Second step indoctrination of youth aims to ensure that incoming leadership maintains the same revolutionary spirit as the current regime leadership, which is finally beginning to pass from the stage.[38]

The Second Step Institutions

Khamenei appointed members of his inner circle to operationalize his vision in the months after his February 2019 speech. Former IRGC Commander and Khamenei confidant Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari is the most important of these. Jafari leads the domestic effort to indoctrinate Iran’s youth to achieve the second step. Khamenei appointed Jafari in March 2019 to lead the Baghiatollah Socio-Cultural Headquarters specifically charged with implementing the second step strategy.[39]

Khamenei likely views the headquarters as a new sixth force of the IRGC in addition to the ground, naval, aerospace, Quds Force, and Basij.[40] The headquarters is a focused on controlling and propagating regime ideology to youth to combat existing and emerging psychological threats in Iran.[41] The Iranian leaders define psychological threats as anything from perceived US-agitated protests to the Western movies and music that are ubiquitous in Iran despite years of regime efforts to restrict access to them.[42] The development of this sixth force demonstrates how crucial and continuous the Iranians view threats in the information space.

The timing of Jafari’s appointment, one month after Khamenei first announced the second step, suggests that the Supreme Leader had had him in mind as the executor of this vision and likely consulted with him in formulating it. Jafari was the IRGC Commander for 10 years before this appointment and had held other strategically important positions before that, indicating Khamenei’s longstanding trust in him.[43] The Baghiatollah Socio-Cultural Headquarters is technically a subsidiary of the IRGC, but Khamenei, not the IRGC commander, appointed Jafari, signaling that he reports directly to the Supreme Leader and that the headquarters has particular importance. [44]

Khamenei has used Jafari in similar roles before. Jafari has accepted de facto demotions in the past to lead strategically important efforts and been rewarded with greater posts thereafter. Jafari left his command of the IRGC Ground Forces to found the think tank–style IRGC Strategic Studies Center.[45] Jafari formulated the Mosaic Doctrine while heading the center, which he then operationalized after being promoted to IRGC commander.[46]

The Mosaic Doctrine aimed to decentralize IRGC command and personnel throughout the country to make it more difficult for attackers and to facilitate population control in the event of an invasion.[47] Second Step rests on similar principles of decentralization of leadership and resources to proactively defend against adversarial psychological or, at worst, physical attacks. Jafari’s second de facto demotion likely does not signal any fall from the Supreme Leader’s favor, but rather the importance Khamenei attaches to implementing his newly articulated ideology.

The newly established Second Step Secretariat will oversee ideological decentralization bolstered by local recruitment and indoctrination efforts. The Second Step Secretariat has established provincial chapters since 2019.[48] The secretariat focuses on bolstering participation and ideological cohesion by working with the Islamic Students Associations Union (ISAU) to fund and support new and existing “jihadist groups.”[49] Jihadist groups are ostensibly autonomous youth groups self-proclaimed to be ideologically aligned with the regime. The groups operating out of schools or mosques have wide remits to conduct philanthropic and educational missions.[50]

The ISAU and the secretariat are led by the same individual indicating that they are intended to work together intimately. Khomeini started the ISAU to proactively proliferate groups of young people supporting his vision in politically active spaces after the 1979 revolution to sustain and build his base. The union would give a roughly $1000 investment to any student Islamic group that pledged support with little stipulations.[51] Khamenei is reinforcing its efforts.

Successful ideological indoctrination supplements limited monetary resources from the government with a small upfront cost. Khomeini followed by Khamenei and Jafari likely see this small investment as a means to spread ideological support as widely as possible, hoping to inspire low-cost vigilante activity in aid of regime objectives. Jafari has publicly claimed that the Islamic Republic’s main enemies are inside the country and has called on Iranian students to root out spies and “sell outs.”[52] Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) have also implemented this strategy in recent months by bolstering their neighborhood security strategy and conducting LEF “meet and greets” to encourage citizens to share information on their neighbors’ anti-Islamic behavior.[53]

Revamping management in the second step means providing support to a large number of local organizations while consolidating decision-making at the highest levels. The objective is to have as many low-level, regime-affiliated organizations as possible.[54] The management structure praises “self-sufficient” responsibility at low levels but limits the number of mid-level leaders with decision-making power.[55] Khamenei’s deputies, the senior political and military leaders, will give varying degrees of latitude to mid-level leaders depending on respective personalities.

Different key sectors of Iran’s political system will have latitude to operationalize Khamenei’s strategy in accordance with their circumstances. Only a limited cadre has Khamenei’s mandate and thus operational-level decision-making authority. Khamenei empowers a few of his senior-level subordinates to operationalize his strategy in different aspects of society. [56] Khamenei lets this cadre interpret then carry out his mission, which by design will lead to multiple, slightly divergent objectives, chosen by the subordinate’s personal agenda.

Implementing the Second Step

The objective of the revolution’s Second Step is the “Islamization of the system,” a process that is already partially underway across Iran’s three branches of government. Islamization is the process of making an organization more socially and politically conservative in accord with the Islamic Republic’s brand of Shiism.[57] Khamenei, in his role as Supreme Leader, sets the grand strategy but leaves his deputies to interpret and operationalize it. Three major campaigns of the second step are led by Khamenei’s deputies: Islamization of the parliament, judiciary, and presidency. Each of these campaigns are led by trusted Khamenei insiders.

Islamization of the Parliament involves transforming parliamentary leadership to be more aligned with Khamenei’s autarkic and socially conservative system of governance. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s appointment to parliament speaker fulfilled this qualification. Ghalibaf is a staunch fundamentalist and former IRGC commander, leading the powerful Khatam ol Anbia Construction Headquarters (a wing of the IRGC), the IRGC Aerospace Force, and the LEF during his career.[58] Ghalibaf is also a decorated Iran-Iraq war veteran, commanding elite brigades and divisions in combat.[59]

Jafari, the IRGC Intelligence Organization, and the Guardian Council support the campaign to Islamize the parliament. Jafari personally endorsed Ghalibaf’s bid for parliament speaker in a preelection TV interview.[60] IRGC Intelligence Organization Chief Hossein Taeb said that the objective of the IRGC Intelligence Organization is to support the formation of a parliament in accordance to the second step a few days later.[61]

The composition of the current parliament that Ghalibaf leads is itself a reflection of the second step ideology. The Guardian Council placed unprecedented restrictions on candidates for the 2020 parliamentary elections, barring more candidates than ever before on ideological grounds.[62] The council is led by conservative cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. Jannati has likely been involved in the formative years of second step ideology as the Supreme Leader representative to the ISAU for years.[63] The US government sanctioned Jannati for his role in restricting free elections in February 2020.[64]

Judiciary Chief Raisi, a possible Supreme Leader successor, was appointed by Khamenei to carry out his second step mandate. Raisi immediately launched a “Judiciary cleanse” after his appointment in March 2019.[65] The purge has hollowed out the political networks of two other possible contenders to succeed Khamenei as the next Supreme Leader: Iranian President Rouhani and Expediency Discernment Council Chairman (and Raisi’s immediate predecessor) Sadegh Amoli Larijani.[66] The internal purge was meant to reform the Judiciary and root out corruption, but ended up purging nearly 20% of Judicial staff likely loyal to former Judiciary Chief Amoli Larijani since June 2019.[67] Raisi-appointed Protection and Intelligence Center head Ali Abdollahi accused and later arrested Amoli Larijani’s right hand man and former Judiciary deputy Akbar Tabari on sweeping accusations of mismanagement and corruption in Amoli Larijani’s Judiciary.[68]

Raisi’s judiciary cleanse has also targeted Rouhani administration officials as part of a larger effort to blame Rouhani for economic mismanagement. Rouhani’s brother and trusted adviser Hossein Fereydoun was sentenced to five years in prison on October 1, 2019, for corruption.[69] Raisi first attacked Rouhani for nepotism during Raisi’s 2017 presidential campaign.[70] Fereydoun’s corruption scandal damaged Rouhani’s credibility as the Rouhani-led formal government struggled to make economic improvements during the US maximum-pressure campaign. Tabari and Fereydoun are likely not innocent, but their arrests were politically motivated. Notably not targeted for corruption is Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani’s family despite exposés detailing the family’s extreme wealth.[71]

Raisi’s actions are clearly self-serving in that they weaken potential rivals and secure a powerful base from which he can hope to attain supreme leadership after Khamenei’s death. Khamenei’s toleration of Raisi’s purge suggests that Raisi has the Supreme Leader’s favor but also that his actions advance Khamenei’s ideological goals. The Supreme Leader’s continued support for Raisi indicates that the failed presidential candidate is the kind of person Khamenei believes can lead Iran in the right direction.

Raisi’s attacks on Rouhani simultaneously support the Islamization of the presidency. Public attacks on Rouhani either tacitly or explicitly incited limited protests criticizing Rouhani for acting against Islamic revolutionary principles.[72] A leaked audio tape of a private meeting between senior regime officials including IRGC Hazrat Zeinab Syria Base Commander Noei, claims Rouhani threatened to “start a war” if his brother was arrested. Noei accused Rouhani of agitating the November 2019 protest wave.[73]

Two of these campaigns are clearly advancing—judiciary and legislature. The presidential election in June 2021 will be a significant indicator of the progress of and prospects for the third. The effect of these campaigns will significantly limit plurality in Iran’s political field.[74] Khamenei is a highly pragmatic thinker even in the implementation of his ideology and thus has set a road map for a gradual strategic shift over a generational period. While Khamenei’s deputies are hard at work to ensure the political leaders in Iran’s formal government are in line with second step values in the short-term, the significance of second step will likely be seen most five or 10 years from now, even if Khamenei dies in the interim. A signed letter from Iranian leaders in February 2021 has said that the ascendance of a “Hezbollahi,” or second step–aligned, president in 2021 is not an ends but a means to a “multi-generational transformation.”[75]

Khamenei is attempting to set in motion an undertaking that will shift Iran toward a hardline, ideological position long after his own death. It is by no means clear that he will succeed. The fact that he is trying, however, tells us a lot about where his heart and his conception of the Iranian regime and system actually lie.


Supreme Leader Khamenei’s grand strategic vision, the Second Step of the Islamic Revolution, will stifle plurality in Iran’s political system. Khamenei is trying to cement his legacy by repackaging Iranian ideology for the next generation amid recent widespread anti-regime protests and youth disinterest. The second step lays out a strategy for how the regime will respond to perceived internal and external pressure from Western, liberal thought in this generation. Khamenei-approved actors will use Khamenei’s second step mandate to “Islamize” the Islamic Republic political system. Conservative elements in Iran will undermine and eventually eliminate more “liberal” actors (reformists) in Iran’s government under second step.[76] This is Khamenei’s attempt to cement his legacy and life’s work.

Khamenei’s grand strategy requires his subordinates to prioritize indoctrination above all else. The strategy insists that indoctrination and the resulting social control will resolve perceived existential threats. Implicit in Khamenei’s strategy is his assumption that the problems of the Islamic Republic flow from the people’s inadequate revolutionary spirt. Khamenei has misdiagnosed the problems the regime faces, and his strategy to address these problems will therefore exacerbate, rather than quell, unrest. Second step will therefore push the Iranian regime in a more hardline direction further destabilizing the country domestically and making it more dangerous internationally.

Stable containment of the Iranian regime rests on the regime operating in a more realpolitik mode. Khamenei’s stages of the revolution grand strategy takes Khomeini’s ideology further, aiming to rid Western influence not only from Iran but also from the world. Khamenei’s stated ideology is a clear, albeit unattainable, strategy to spread an alternate system throughout the region and world in stages to counter liberal, Western states and the current international order.

US policy to negotiate with the Islamic Republic relies on a considerable degree of rationality prevailing in Iranian grand strategy—a rationality that has been present to a considerable degree up to this point. If Khamenei succeeds in this current effort, however, the US may find that policies predicated on rational responses may lose their effectiveness. It is clear that a more ideologized regime will likely be less pragmatic, less inclined to engage in normal diplomatic relations, and more controlled by the hardliners most committed (at least rhetorically) to preserving the ideals of the revolution.


[1] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution], February 11, 2019, *

[2] For example, see Mizan Online News Agency, “Enteghaale amoozehaye defaye moqaddas vazifeye bozorgi dar ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab ast” [The transmission of the teachings of the Holy Defense is a great task at the beginning of the Second Step of the revolution], October 8, 2019, *

[3] Will Fulton, “The IRGC Command Network,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, July 2013,

[4] Kyra Rauschenbach, “Supreme Leader’s Son Prepares for His Political Future,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, January 21, 2021,

[5]  Javan Online News Agency, “Farhange defaye moqaddas dar gam dovome enghelab” [The culture of Holy Defense in the Second Step of the revolution], October 10, 2020, *                

[6] Kyra Rauschenbach, “US-Iran Escalation Timeline,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute,

[7] Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[8] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[9] Mike Saidi, “More Chants More Protests the Dey Iranian Anti-Regime Protests,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, December 20, 2018,

[10] Lesley Wroughton and Doina Chiacu, “Pompeo to Call for Broad Support to Pressure Iran”, Reuters, May 18, 2018,

[11] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[12] Alef News Website, “Tanha rahe khorooje mardom az bonbast taqy’ir entekhabhayeshan ast; moshkele asliye ma sokhtar neest” [The only way for people to get out of impasses is to change their decisions; our main problem is not structure], December 10, 2019, *

[13] Aljazeera, “Iran’s Zarif Dismisses Sanctions, Calls US Irresponsible Actor,” September 21, 2020, *

[14] Aljazeera, “Rouhani Says Nuclear Deal Political Victory,” July 15 2015, *

[15] For example, see Kyra Rauschenbach, “Iranian Hardliners Turn Nuclear Scientist’s Assassination to Their Political Advantage,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, December 15, 2020,

[16] Mike Saidi and Nicholas Carl, “Iran File: Hardliners Yield Back on Attacks for Now,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, December 7, 2018,

[17] Frederick W. Kagan, “In Depth: The Iran Nuclear Deal and Sanctions Relief,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, July 29, 2015,

[18] Kyra Rauschenbach, “Iranian Hardliners Turn Nuclear Scientist’s Assassination to Their Political Advantage.”

[19] The formal government is not a true democracy because the unelected Guardian Council, which is in fact under Khamenei’s control, choose which candidates can run on ideological and political grounds.

[20] Nicholas Carl and Kyra Rauschenbach, “Iran File: Regime Infighting and Supreme Leader Succession,” Critical Threat Project at the American Enterprise Institute, December 16, 2020,

[21] Kasra Arabi, “IRGC’s Dark Horse for Iran’s 2021 Elections: Saeed Mohammad,” Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, December 3, 2020,

[22] Golnaz Esfandiari, “Rare Race Heats Up Among Iran’s Conservatives for Parliament Speaker,” Radio Free Europe, May 10, 2020,

[23] Seyed Hossein Mousavian, “The Rise of the Iranian Moderates,” Al Monitor, July 5, 2013, *

[24] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[25] Matthew McInnis, “Iran’s Strategic Thinking: Origins and Evolution,” American Enterprise Institute, May 12, 2015,

[26] Tasnim News Agency, “Ayatollah Khamenei Philosophy Is Essential in Seminary Curriculum,” April 25, 2018, *

[27] The Persian phrase is velayat-e faqih or “guardianship of the jurisprudent.” Supreme Leader is an inaccurate rendering of a variation of this expression that could be more accurately translated as “supreme guide.”

[28] Abu Nasr Farabi, On the Perfect State, trans. Richard Walter (Chicago: Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., 1985).

[29] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Suhrawardi,” March 29, 2019,

[30] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[31] Saheb Khabar News, “Mohammad Mehdi Abolhassani chehre maktabi va jehadiye sal shod” [Mohammad Mehdi Abolhassani named School and Jihadi figure of the year], *محمدمهدی-ابوالحسنی-چهره-مکتبی-و-جهادی-سال-شد ; and Mashregh News, “Baleestikyahe daryaiye Iran do hezar kilometr shodand” [Iranian balistic missiles have reached 2 thousand kilometers], September 16, 2019, *

[32] Tasnim News, “Sharte dabeer mojmeh tashkheese mosalahat baraye Europayeha” [Condition of the Secretary of the Expediency Council for Europeans], *

[33] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[34] Mehr News Agency, “Jaryane gam dovom enghelab eslaami elam mojoodiyat kard” [Second Step of the Revolution Declared], *جریان-گام-دوم-انقلاب-اسلامی-اعلام-موجودیت-کرد.

[35] Mehr News Agency, “Jaryane gam dovom enghelab eslaami elam mojoodiyat kard” [Second Step of the Revolution Declared].

[36] Tehran Times, “World Youth Day: Can Iran Meet Growing Youth Population Needs,” August 12, 2020, *

[37] Fulton, “The IRGC Command Network.”

[38] Gam-e dovom, website, *

[39] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[40] Yaran Khorasan Province News, “Sakhtar-e faraurgah farhangi va ejtemai baghiatollah”  [The structure of the Baghiatollah Socio-Cultural Headquarters], *ساختار-قرارگاه-فرهنگی-و-اجتماعی-بقیه-ا/.

[41] Young Journalist Club, “lozum baztarif gharargah farhangi ejtemai hazerate baghiatollah” [The need to redefine the baghiatollah socio-cultural headquarters], April 24, 2019, *لزوم-بازتعریف-قرارگاه-فرهنگی%E2%80%8C-اجتماعی-حضرت-بقیه-الله-عج.

[42] Alef, “Sardar Jafari: tanha ra kharoj mardom az banbast tagheer antakhabhaishan ast,”


[43] Fulton, “The IRGC Command Network.”

[44] The command structure possibly mirrors that of the Quds Force under Soleimani. IRGC leaders have confirmed that Soleimani reported directly to Khamenei, rather than the IRGC commander, when Soleimani led the Quds Force. Alef, “Sardar Jafari dar Soleimani masahabe mi dahad” [Former IRGC Commander Jafari gives interview on Soleimani].

[45] Fulton, “The IRGC Command Network.”

[46]  Ali Alfoneh, “What Do Structural Changes in the Revolutionary Guards Mean?,” American Enterprise Institute, September 2008,

[47] Marie Donovan, Nicholas Carl. and Fredrick Kagan, “Iran’s Reserve of Last Resort,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, January 2020,

[48] Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution News, “Hossein Tarkhabi be raisat dabirkhane gam e dovom mansoob shod,” [Hossein Tarkhabi was appointed to head the Second Step Secretariat], January 27, 2020, *

[49] Defa Press, “Defa moghadas baraj takalifemadari ast” [Sacred Defense is a clear example of duty], February 2, 2021, *تلاش-دشمن-برای-حذف-سربازان-کارآمد-نظام-دفاع-مقدس-مصداق-بارز-تکلیف‌مداری-است.

[50] Tasnim News Agency, “Mahar tamozi 20 hazar danash amooz zso atahadieh anjamanhai danash amoozi dar qom” [Skills training for 20,000 new student members of the Islamic Students Associations Union], July 29, 2018, *

[51] Defa Press, “Sardaar Jafari aaz Cheraaye Mahouriyat-e Javaanaan dar Gaam-e Dovom-e Enghelaab Migouyad” [General Jafari Discusses Why Youth are Central to Second Step of the Revolution], December 9, 2019, *

[52] Fars News Agency, “Sarlaskar Jafari: taskhir lane jasoosi liberalha” [Major General Jafari: Capturing the spy nest of liberals], November 4, 2019, *

[53] Kyra Rauschenbach, “Iranian National Police Force Adopts New Measures to Confront Anticipated Unrest,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, August 25, 2020,

[54] Islamic Republic News Agency, “Yek royekarad jadid bar nazame jizi basij” [A new Basij planning approach], December 17, 2019, *

[55] Fars News Agency, “Sarlaskar Jafari: taskhir lane jasoosi liberalha” [Major General Jafari: Capturing the spy nest of liberals], November 4, 2019, *

[56] Matthew McInnis, “The Future of Iran’s Security Policy,” American Enterprise Institute, May 2017,

[57] Ali Khamenei, “Ebtedaie gam dovom enghelab” [The second stage of the revolution].

[58] Nicholas Carl, “Iran File: Newly Empowered Hardliners Move Against Rouhani,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, August 20, 2020,

[59] Nicholas Carl, “E50: What Does Iran’s Presidential Election Mean for Biden’s Policy?,” Overwatch Podcast, Institute for the Study of War, February 2, 2021,

[60] Fars News Agency, “Sarlaskar Jafari: taskhir lane jasoosi liberalha” [Major General Jafari: Capturing the spy nest of liberals], November 4, 2019, *

[61] Ensaf News, “Tayeb: hadaf atlaghat sepah een ke majlasi dar taraz” [The objective of the IRGC Intelligence Organization is to form a parliament in the second step of the revolution], November 14, 2020, *

[62] Nicholas Carl, “US Must Be Wary as Iran’s Parliament Veers Hard Right,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, February 26, 2020,

[63] Fars News Agency, “Naghesh joanan dar gam e dovom anghelaab islami” [The role of youth in the second step of the Islamic revolution], August 7, 2019, *نقش-جوانان-در-گام-دوم-انقلاب-اسلامی.

[64] Mengqi Sun, “US Blacklists Five Senior Iranian Officials Ahead of Parliamentary Elections,” Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2020,

[65] Islamic Republic of Iran News, “Taqy’ir dar sakhtar dastgae ghazay’I” [Changes in the Judiciary Structure], June 22, 2019, *

[66] Golnaz Esfandiari, “Corruption Probe or Power Struggle?,” Radio Free Europe, August 24, 2019,

[67] Islamic Republic of Iran News, “Taqy’ir dar sakhtar dastgae ghazay’I” [Changes in the Judiciary Structure].

[68] BBC News, “Iran’s Judiciary Carrying Out Internal Cleansing on Supreme Leader’s Orders,” August 14, 2019,; and Mashregh News, “Delail baz dasht akbar tabiri,” [Reasons for the detention of Akbar Tabari], July 16, 2019, *

[69] Michael Wolgelenter, “Brother of Iran’s President Is Sentenced to Prison for Corruption,” New York Times, October 1, 2019,

[70] Amir Azimi, “Iran Cases Step Up Pressure on President Rouhani,” BBC News, July 17, 2017,

[71] Saheb Khabar, “Searvat afsaneai khanevade dabir showraye aliye amniyate melli jir zarre been” [The legendary fortune of the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council family], August 15, 2019, *ثروت-افسانه-ای-خانواده-دبیر-شورای-عالی-امنیت-ملی-زیر-ذره-بین.

[72] Protesters chanted slogans against Rouhani during this speech. Protesters said, “Your voice is not the voice of the youth” and “death to anti velayat-e-faqih.” Fars News Agency Twitter Status, November 10, 2019,

[73] Iran Wire YouTube, “Release of an Audio File of an IRGC Commander About Behind the Scenes Events of the November 2019 Protests,” Iran Wire, January 19, 2020,

[74] Carl, “E50: What Does Iran’s Presidential Election Mean for Biden’s Policy?”

[75] Mehr News Agency, “Jaryane gam dovom enghelab eslaami elam mojoodiyat kard” [Second Step of the Revolution Declared], *جریان-گام-دوم-انقلاب-اسلامی-اعلام-موجودیت-کرد.

[75] Faranak Bakhtiari, “World Youth Day: Can Iran Meet Growing Youth Population’s Needs.”

[76] Fars News Agency, “Sarlaskar Jafari: taskhir lane jasoosi liberalha” [Major General Jafari: Capturing the spy nest of liberals].

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