Iran: Challenges for president elect Ebrahim Raisi

Since 2016, Raisi has been leading Astan Quds Razavi Foundation,which runs the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, a major Shiite pilgrimage site.

Iran: Challenges for president elect Ebrahim Raisi
Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran June 15, 2021. (Reuters)


As anticipated, ultra conservative Ebrahim Raisi is to be the new President of Iran after securing around 17.8 million votes where only 48% of over 54 million voters exercised their franchise. President elect Ebrahim Raisi, is the current head of Judiciary who dons a black turban, thereby indicating that he is a descendant of Prophet Mohammed and a Sayyid.

The election of Raisi was a foregone conclusion after he had been shortlisted among a group of seven candidates to stand for the election after their candidature was vetted by the 12 member Guardian Council that is required to ascertain suitability of candidates to constitutional positions in line with Iran’s theological ideology. Interestingly, Raisi as head of Judiciary oversees the working of Guardian Council and nominates six members to the council.

Coming from a judicial background, he has been a prosecutor for the Islamic regime. His main claim to fame is his role as the lead prosecutor in trial of political opponents of the Islamic regime that took place during 1988, leading to mass elimination of political prisoners not aligned to Iran’s Shiite regime. Thereafter he has continued to serve in various judicial appointments, prominently as Tehran’s prosecutor, head of the General Inspection Organization, prosecutor general of the Special Court of the Clergy, and a deputy chief justice.

Since 2016, Raisi has been leading Astan Quds Razavi Foundation,which runs the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, a major Shiite pilgrimage site. The Foundation wields huge political and economic significance due to control over its charitable activities and holding of huge properties and businesses, spread across a wide array of multiple assets including agriculture to construction.

Raisi has also held the position of vice president of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a key institution, responsible for choosing the next supreme leader after 82-year-old Khamenei. Ebrahim Raisi has been close to Iran’s powerful clergy, most prominently to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He enjoys his trust and was therefore promoted over other candidates. There are strong rumours that he will don the mantle of Supreme Leader after Ayatollah Ali Khameni.

Since 2019 as head of Iran’s judiciary in 2019, Raisi has been projected as a crusader against corruption. The position has allowed him to consolidate his hold over the clergy and in the process eliminate a good number of political opponents- the alibi of corruption being an easy way to get rid of any one not in sync with ideological or political thinking of the Islamic regime.

Raisi is known to be a strong advocate of a resilient and strong economy to be built around state institutions supported by the Islamic regime. He sees a stronger role for Iranian Revolutionary Guard and other such state bodies to strengthen Iranian economy and become self-sufficient. This is significant in the backdrop of US led sanctions that have almost crippled Iranian economy with wide ranging impact on population leading to discontent and wide ranging protests in the past.

Election of Raisi is unlikely to have any major impact on the ongoing talks on the nuclear deal since the talks are being guided by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although personally opposed to the 2015 Nuclear deal, Raisi has little option but to go ahead with the negotiations currently ongoing in Vienna, which have been ongoing for a while and are reportedly in a decisive stage. Reaching an agreement is therefore in the interests of Iran where the economic situation has worsened over the last few years.

The resolution of the nuclear deal is also important from the perspective of regional peace and security in the Middle East and Gulf region. An agreement between the USA and Iran on nuclear deal is bound to give an impetus to negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, so very essential for stability in the region.

President elect is reportedly in favour of improved relations with its neighbours including China. How these relations shape up post withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, with whom Iran shares a long and common border and has substantial stake would be extremely important from the viewpoint of stability in the region.

Beyond the international relations it is the domestic situation that will call for his immediate attention.

Election of Ebrahim Raisi pays put to the ambitions and hopes of all moderates and is likely to push its majority young population into isolation and away from global aspirations. The hopes of youth would definitely be shattered with the growing hold of conservatives. How the new regime tackles its isolation from the global community and imbibes confidence amongst the youth would be important and interesting.

The economic woes due to sanctions have led to Iran’s isolation from the global financial system. This has led to collapse of its currency and widespread unemployment. Inflation is crippling and shortage of food and daily needs is common. The impact of corona pandemic has been massive and there is acute shortage of drugs and medical care. These would need immediate attention of the new regime.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi indicates consolidation of the hold of conservatives over Iranian polity and a blow to the moderates, who were trying to break free of them. It would be interesting to see how they shape the destiny of an aspiring nation in the days ahead.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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First published on: 20-06-2021 at 12:16 IST