Explanation | Who is Ebrahim Raisi, the next Iranian president?
The 60-year-old, perceived to be close to the Supreme Leader, held various establishment positions and was also part of the “death commission” which oversaw executions in the 1980s.
With the victory of Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s conservative justice chief, in Friday’s presidential election, the country’s religious establishment tightened its grip on the Islamic Republic. When 90% of the ballots were counted, Mr. Raisi won 62% of the vote. Other candidates conceded the race. Mr. Raisi would replace moderate President Hassan Rouhani, whose tenure has been marked by international diplomacy, pressure, regional tensions and growing protests and domestic repression.
Mr. Raisi, 60, whose lineage dates back to the Prophet Muhammad (who allows him to wear a black turban), is a loyal and senior figure in the Iranian establishment. He ran in the 2017 presidential election, but lost to Mr Rouhani, who won a second term. But the defeat did not prevent Mr. Raisi from becoming one of the most important clerics in the country’s tightly held politico-religious system. In 2019, Mr Raisi, who is said to be close to the Supreme Leader, was appointed chief justice. In the same year, he was appointed deputy head of the 88-member Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that will choose the next Supreme Leader upon the departure of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
A favorite of the clergy
During the presidential election, there were complaints that the establishment clearly favored Mr. Raisi. Mr. Rouhani, a popular figure among reformists and moderates, is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third consecutive term. Other leading moderate candidates, former parliament speaker Ali Larijani and outgoing vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, were excluded from the candidacy by the Council of Guardians. The 12-member council, which examines potential candidates, allowed only seven candidates – two quiet moderates and five hard-line supporters – to stand. Mr. Raisi was the only prominent candidate on the list. As the elections approached, two more candidates dropped out, increasing Raisi’s chances. There were no surprises when the results were announced.
Born in 1960 in a village near the holy city of Mashhad, Mr. Raisi, a teenager, studied in a seminary in Qom. When Iran erupted against the Shah’s regime in the late 1970s, Mr. Raisi, like many other seminary students, liberals and left-wing activists, joined the protests. After the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty and the transformation of Iran into the Islamic Republic, Mr. Raisi began his judicial career as a prosecutor in the city of Karaj. He moved to the capital in 1985 after being appointed deputy prosecutor of Tehran. It was around this time that Mr. Raisi first caught the attention of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.
After the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, Khomeini issued secret decrees condemning thousands of political prisoners (mostly members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, a dissident group backed by Saddam Hussein that carried out attacks after the Iran has accepted a ceasefire, and supporters of left-wing factions like the Fedaian and the Tudeh Party) to death. Then a four-man commission, widely known as the “death commission”, was set up to carry out the executions. Mr Raisi is said to have been a member of the committee. A 2019 US Treasury Department statement, which imposed sanctions on senior Iranian officials, including Mr. Raisi, “for advancing domestic and foreign oppression,” says “as Tehran’s deputy attorney general , Raisi participated in a so-called “death commission” which ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Rights groups including Amnesty International published a report on the 1990 murders, according to rights groups. , thousands of people have been killed in false trials. Iran has never acknowledged these killings. Mr. Raisi has never spoken of them publicly, even during his presidential campaigns.
Still a staunch ally of the establishment, Mr. Raisi has held several important positions in the Iranian justice system. From 2004 to 2014, he was the first Associate Chief Justice. In 2014, he was appointed Attorney General of Iran, a position he held until 2016. Then Khamenei appointed him to head the Atan-e Quds-e Razavi (Imam Reza charitable foundation), which manages a large network of companies and endowments. These foundations, running largely on donations or assets seized in the 1979 revolution worth billions, operate directly under the Supreme Leader. When appointed to the foundation, Mr. Khamenei called Mr. Raisi a “trustworthy person with high-level experience”, a rare praise from the Supreme Leader that fueled speculation the Ayatollah might be preparing him. as a potential successor.
After his electoral victory in the second attempt, Mr. Raisi could now claim a certain popular legitimacy. Mr. Khamenei himself served as president for two terms before being chosen as the second Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic after Khomeini’s death in 1989. But as president great challenges await Mr. Raisi. Iran’s economy is practically in ruins. Negotiations to reinstate the nuclear deal, which Mr. Raisi supported, are ongoing. More importantly, the country has seen repeated mass protests in recent years, which the regime has suppressed by force. Mr Raisi led a campaign promising he would tackle “poverty and corruption, humiliation and discrimination”. Now is the time for him to deliver.