He is a staunch critic of the West, but he is not expected to fundamentally change Iran’s policy towards the United States. He is loyal to the Supreme Leader, but he may soon replace him. And he’s just been imbued with substantial power, but he’ll use it primarily to carry out his boss’s orders.
This is what the world can expect from the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who won the country’s presidential election on Friday – a contest that was heavily rigged in favor of Raisi – with an extremely low participation rate.
Raisi is an ultra-conservative judge who currently heads the country’s justice system. He has long faced allegations of involvement in serious human rights violations, including the mass execution of thousands of prisoners, mostly political dissidents and protesters – activities for which Raisi has been sanctioned by the Trump administration in 2019.
Final # Iran Elections the numbers are in:
* Raisi received 17.9 million votes (61.9%), followed by spoiled ballots, Rezaei, Hemmati, Ghazisadeh
* The turnout at 48.8%, the lowest in pre-election history. As with parl. vote, the state does not bother to change the figures to cross the “lowest” threshold. https://t.co/PwlfRzXRAp
– Henri Rome (@ hrome2) June 19, 2021
As president, Raisi will face several daunting challenges. He will have to negotiate America’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal. He will have to face both the severe economic recession and the coronavirus pandemic raging in his country. And he may have to oversee the succession of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, 82, the first real change of power in Iran in more than 30 years.
Experts say Khamenei orchestrated Raisi’s electoral victory, mainly by preventing powerful challengers from competing with him, to ensure that the Supreme Leader’s vision for Iran outlasts him from afar.
“Khamenei wants someone who sees the world as he sees it,” said Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, DC. As a former student of Khamenei who has been appointed to every important post he held by his mentor, Raisi is a sure bet to ensure the legacy of the Supreme Leader.
But there are still open questions about what Raisi’s rise to the presidency will mean for the future. One is how an extremist will rule as president, especially now that his ilk will control all major branches of Iranian government. Experts predict that the country will become more repressive internally and continue with its combative foreign policy. “They still won’t trust the United States,” said Holly Dagres, British member of the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
The other, arguably more important question is whether Raisi’s rise to the presidency makes him the clear leader to replace Khamenei when the aging leader dies. If so, then the way Raisi, 60, governs could offer clues as to how he could rule Iran for decades to come. The money is on Raisi following in his mentor’s footsteps.
“Raisi owes everything he has to Khamenei,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group.
Who is Ebrahim Raisi?
A few weeks before the presidential election on June 18, it was clear that Iranian leaders wanted Raisi to win.
The regime only allows those deemed sufficiently loyal to the supreme leader to run for president, but it also likes to leave a veneer of democratic legitimacy in the election. This time, however, Khamenei and the 12-person Guardian Council responsible for approving the candidates openly removed that veneer. They disqualified anyone who might challenge Raisi, effectively securing his victory – perhaps seen as a necessary decision after Raisi surprisingly lost in 2017 to current President Hassan Rouhani.
The move was so blatant that even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military and security organization responsible for the regime’s protection and survival, called the election undemocratic.
A look at Raisi’s past makes it clear why the regime would go to so much trouble to make him the new president.
He was born in Mashhad in northeastern Iran, the same city Khamenei is from, and can trace his lineage to the Islamic Prophet Mohammed (who allows him to wear a black turban). Born into a family of clergymen, he received a religious education and achieved the status of low-level clergyman, but he never achieved the status of Ayatollah, the highest rank of the twelve Shia clergy in Iran.
Raisi instead joined the Iranian justice system in 1981 and only four years later became deputy attorney general in Tehran, the capital. It was in this role in 1988, towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war, that Amnesty International alleges that Raisi was associated with the extrajudicial executions of political prisoners. “Between 4,500 and 5,000 men, women and children were killed in the summer of 1988 in prisons across Iran,” the human rights group wrote in 2013. (Raisi’s defenders deny his involvement.)
Raisi continued to rise through the ranks of Iranian power, largely aided by the appointment of Khamenei in 1989 to the post of supreme leader. Among other positions, Raisi became Tehran’s attorney general in 1989, Iran’s first deputy chief justice in 2004, and the country’s attorney general in 2014.
Over the past five years, Raisi has become one of the country’s leading figures in the regime. In 2016, Khamenei appointed him to head the powerful Astan Quds Razavi Foundation, a so-called charity group that runs the important Imam Reza shrine and other institutions. (The Trump administration sanctioned the foundation in January for its immense wealth and close ties to the Supreme Leader.)
Then, in 2019, Khamenei gave Raisi the reins of Iranian justice, where he used his perch to ostensibly fight corruption, though some say he primarily targeted his political opponents. That same year, Raisi was elected vice-president of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which – interestingly enough – will pick the next supreme leader after Khamenei’s death.
Such an inexorable rise could only end with Raisi as President of Iran, making him arguably the second most powerful official in Iran after Khamenei himself. But precisely what he will do with this power is not entirely clear.
From President Raisi to Supreme Leader Raisi?
Raisi didn’t offer much platform during the election, in part because he didn’t really need to craft a winning post, when the election has already been in his favor.
But experts note that he has long been ultra-conservative on domestic issues, such as eradicating political dissent and women’s rights, and on foreign policy, he remains extremely critical of the West.
However, the potential good news for the Biden administration is that Raisi has shown willingness to abide by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
” Let’s be clear. We would certainly respect the [deal] in the format that was approved with nine clauses by the Supreme Leader, because it is a contract and a commitment that governments must live up to, ”Raisi said in a debate on June 12.
He even attacked one of the other candidates as well as the current Rouhani government saying that only he could keep the agreement intact. “Gentlemen, you cannot implement the JCPOA,” said Raisi, using the acronym for the agreement’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The JCPOA must be implemented by a strong government. Foreign power is an extension of internal power.
It seems contradictory that Raisi is constantly angry with the West, but also wants the nuclear deal to survive. But experts say the cleric’s position makes sense: Khamenei had allowed the original deal to be made, and lifting the sanctions would greatly help the struggling economy.
Ultimately, however, analysts told me that Raisi’s main job will be to help Khamenei realize his vision for a second Islamic revolution, led by the country’s youth. Many of the country’s main clerics are 70 or older, and it has been over 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Khamenei wants changes in the Iranian government to instill a continued sense of revolution among the next generation of people. Iranians.
To do this, Vaez of the International Crisis Group said, Khamenei could move government from a presidential system to a parliamentary system, removing a key source of friction between the offices of the president and the supreme leader, and facilitating the adoption of reforms by the government on the party. lines. Raisi is unlikely to fight much during such changes, and he will have little qualms about quashing public or government dissent.
“By this election, [Khamenei] wants to have a flexible president with a flexible parliament so that he has no resistance to internal changes, ”Vaez told me.
By effectively selecting Raisi, Khamenei aims to ensure the sustainability of his legacy and influence. “He thinks after he’s gone, and that’s how he does it,” said Dagres of the Atlantic Council.
So, is Raisi okay with being Khamenei’s puppet? Not quite, the experts told me. Rather, it’s essentially a trade: Raisi will be auctioning off Khamenei now, so when the time comes to select a new Supreme Leader, Raisi will be the favorite.
What Raisi’s election to the presidency really means, then, is the arrival of a major new figure on the world stage. It’s Raisi’s test before potentially taking the reins of Iran, and few think he’s going to throw his shot. “Something big is happening in Iran,” Dagres told me.