Dressed in a black turban and long religious cloak, Ebrahim Raisi presents himself as an austere figure and an anti-corruption champion of the poor ahead of the Iranian presidential election.
The 60-year-old ultra-conservative, widely regarded as the frontrunner to win the June 18 poll, heads the judiciary and is a “hodjatoleslam,” one rank below that of the Ayatollah in the Shiite clerical hierarchy.
His campaign centers on the promise to “fight relentlessly against poverty and corruption”.
He operated on a similar platform for the 2017 elections, when he won 38% of the vote, well below the margin needed to prevent moderate President Hassan Rouhani from securing a second consecutive term.
Born in November 1960 in the holy city of Mashhad, in northeastern Iran, the second largest urban center in the republic, he rose to high office from an early age.
At only 20 years old, Raisi was appointed attorney general of Karaj, neighboring Tehran, following the Islamic revolution of 1979.
For the opposition in exile, his name is indelibly associated with the mass executions of Marxists and other leftists in 1988, when he was deputy prosecutor at the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, although he denied any involvement.
Raisi has decades of judicial experience, having served as Tehran’s Attorney General from 1989 to 1994, Deputy Head of the Judicial Authority for a decade from 2004, and then National Attorney General in 2014.
– Guide student –
In 2016, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei entrusted Raisi with the management of the powerful Astan Quds Razavi charitable foundation, which manages Imam Reza’s shrine in Mashhad and controls a colossal portfolio of industrial and real estate assets.
Three years later, Khamenei appointed him head of the Judicial Authority.
# photo1Raisi is not known for his great charisma.
He studied Islamic theology and jurisprudence under Khamenei and, according to his official biography, has been teaching at a Shia seminary in Mashhad since 2018.
Many Iranian media see him as a possible successor to Khamenei, who turns 82 in July.
Raisi is also a member of the assembly of experts who choose the supreme leader.
Married to Jamileh Alamolhoda, professor of educational sciences at Shahid-Beheshti University in Tehran, Raisi is the son-in-law of Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer imam and representative of the Supreme Leader for Mashhad.
He and his wife have two daughters, both with graduate degrees.
He is one of five ultra-conservative candidates approved to run for president.
But he received strong support from the two main coalitions of conservative and ultra-conservative parties, and is the only candidate who can count on broad support on a very diverse and even fragmented conservative scene.
He has also sought to reach out beyond his traditional base of support, in a nation deeply torn by personal freedoms.
Raisi pledged to defend “freedom of expression”, “fundamental rights of all Iranian citizens” and “transparency”.
– ‘Uproot sedition’ –
But such promises ring hollow for reformists and even moderate conservatives, who view Raisi as an ill-equipped bogeyman to rule.
He says he wants to build a “people’s government for a powerful Iran” and eradicate “hotbeds of corruption” – a theme he has already pursued in his last judicial role, through a series of high-profile corruption trials against senior state officials.
# photo2Even the judges were not spared by his much-publicized anti-corruption campaign; several have been convicted in the past year.
Asked in 2018 and last year about the 1988 purge, Raisi denied playing any role, although he praised an order he said was issued by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomenei, to proceed with the purge.
And when the Green Movement in 2009 protested against populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning a contested second term, it was uncompromising.
“To those who speak of ‘Islamic compassion and forgiveness’, we reply: we will continue to face the rioters until the end and we will root out this sedition,” he said.
© 2021 AFP