The predecessors of today’s reform parties (a.k.a., the moderates) sought during the 1970s to protect Iran’s nascent banking and manufacturing interests from unimpeded foreign competition. Eventually they lost hope and helped launch the revolution. Flourishing after nearly three decades of protectionist trade policies, this sector now increasingly favors openness to Western capital and management philosophy (the "meritocracy"). A few hundred Iranians of this persuasion staged a candlelight vigil in affluent northern Tehran in September 2001 in sympathy with victims of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Though he is rumored to have accumulated enormous illegitimate wealth, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has by default become the public face of the moderate half of Iran.That's one way Khamenei stays in power, even though he lacks the authority and legitimacy that revolution gave Khomeini in the eyes of Iranians.
The pedigree of Iran’s pro-subsidy authorities, known in the West as the Islamist "hard-liners," on the other hand, goes back to the social conservatives who opposed the Shah’s open door policy because, they believed, it promoted moral decadence. The current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, represents this half of Iran. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, is the political arbiter and peacemaker between the two sectors. (Rostam Pourzal, "The Sum of Iran's Parts: A Political Primer," Fellowship, Spring 2007)
Critics of Iran's government also help Khamenei stay in power. When Khatami was the President of Iran, all that went wrong in the country, not just things for which he was actually responsible, were often blamed on Khatami, not on Khamenei (some of the critics still go after Khatami, though he is out of power today: see this video of the protest against Khatami on the occasion of his visit to Harvard in 2006); today, the blame goes to Ahmadinejad, not to Khamenei. Not just the corporate media but also liberals and leftists have tended to leave Khamenei off the hook. Strange, for this tendency exists not just among those who are uninformed of the structure of power in Iran (which William O. Beeman ably explains in "Elections and Governmental Structure in Iran: Reform Lurks under the Flaws," Brown Journal of World Affairs 11.1, Summer/Fall 2004) but also among those who know better.