Reports of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s ill health and hospitalization for prostate cancer have abounded in recent months, resulting in some speculation as to possible successors – and whether or not they would be more favorable to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s efforts of rapprochement with the West. Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who originally appointed Khamenei but has become more of a reformist since, even suggested the post should be abolished entirely.
Then, last week, rumors surfaced that the ayatollah was dying, with the French Le Figaro alleging on Saturday that his prostate cancer had reached stage 4 and spread to the rest of his body, leaving him with an estimated two more years to live.
We couldn’t really find the French report in the Western press, but came across wire coverage of Iran’s rebuttal to the rumors – which consisted, in the words of The Independent and AP, of putting the aging ayatollah “on show” at an environmental talk to showcase his good health and dismissing any reports to the contrary as “gossip meant to derail ongoing nuclear talks.”
Khamenei spoke about forest conservation, but it was his health that interested the Western press, as Al-Monitor’s Arash Karami lamented; and yet, should the subject matter of Khamenei’s address have been the media’s focus, as Karami suggests, or rather its timing – coinciding with increasing reports on the leader’s failing health?
Perhaps this may hold some clues as to what ranks higher on Iran’s (and our) priorities: amid the political instability surrounding Khamenei, as reported by the US News and World Report, Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which appoints the Supreme Leader, picked hardline Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi to lead it over the more moderate Rafsanjani – according to Politico’s Mehdi Khalaji, a sign that when Khamenei’s successor is chosen, ”Iran could become even tougher to deal with than it already is,” including on the nuclear issue. So if Iran is more concerned with its political environment than its forests, despite Khamenei’s anti-deforestation plea, why shouldn’t the press be?