Never before has Iran had a president who had so much blood on his hands when he took office as Friday elected Ebrahim Raisi. The new president therefore has the dubious honor of not being welcome in the United States in advance. There he is on a blacklist for involvement in many extrajudicial killings.
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The election of the 60-year-old cleric was a formality, after all potential rivals were removed from the list of candidates by the Guardian Council of the Constitution. In 2017, Raisi, a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, was also a candidate but was broadly defeated by the now outgoing President Rouhani. This time, Khamenei paved the way for the presidency for Raisi more thoroughly.
“Everything Raisi has, he owes to Khamenei,” said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, in an email to NRC. Khamenei and Raisi have known each other for a long time. Both come from Mashad, Iran’s second city and also a major religious center. Raisi also studied with Khamenei at the seminary in that other Shia holy city, Qom. Shortly after the Islamic revolution of 1979, he was selected there for a course to train young clerics in national government.
Raisi, who wears a black turban to mark his descent from the prophet, has been known for decades as a hardline adherent. He has always been critical of what he sees as a pernicious West and committed to strict observance of religious precepts. Even in his private life, about which little is known, Islam is never far away. He is the son-in-law of Ahmad Alamolhoda, a prominent Imam from Mashad who is himself a formidable conservative.
Unlike a man like Rouhani, who radiates a certain joviality, Raisi lacks charisma. He is not a great speaker, appeared at several presidential debates and election rallies and makes a dry impression. In recent years, however, he has beckoned more emphatically to the favor of poor Iranians. In his capacity as leader of Iran’s judicial system he set himself up as a fighter against corruption and champion of the interests of the common man. To this end, he often visited remote provinces, where he patiently listened to the problems of local residents. Demonstratively, he cast his vote on Friday in southern Tehran, where many poor people live. It is precisely among those socially disadvantaged groups that he enjoys the most support. It is also important that he is assured of the support of the Revolutionary Guards.
In contrast, in the eyes of more educated Iranians, Raisi has little to offer the country. Some pointed out during the campaign that he had little education other than seminary. And he is known for the eagerness with which he persecuted (alleged) opponents of the Islamic regime. “Mr. Raisi, can you assure me that no legal action will be taken against me after this event,” joked an opponent during an election debate.
Meanwhile, Raisi is silent as the grave about a dark chapter in his younger years. Despite his young age, he already played a prominent role shortly after the revolution. Radical young clerics like him, especially if they were ardent adherents of Ayatollah Khomeiny, were often given a lot of responsibility in the new Iranian theocracy at a very young age. At the age of 20, without any formal legal training, Raisi was appointed as a prosecutor in a provincial town.
Commission of death
Five years later, he was a deputy prosecutor in the capital Tehran. There he loyally helped execute a controversial order from Khomeini in the summer of 1988. “Raisi was only 28 years old at the time, but he was part of the four-member ‘death commission’ in Tehran, which had several thousand political prisoners executed without trial,” said Raha Bahreini, Iran researcher at Amnesty International. by phone. “Their bodies were buried in mass graves.” About four thousand to five thousand people were killed. Amnesty, but also relatives and other authorities have been pressing for years for a thorough independent investigation into this episode.
Raisi was part of a ‘death commission’ of four members in Tehran . in 1988
For Raisi, it was just the beginning of a long career in the legal system. He interrupted that in 2017 for his failed bid for the presidency, followed by a short stint as administrator of a wealthy Shia foundation in Mashad. Then, in 2019, Khamenei appointed him head of Iran’s judicial system. Again he did not shy away from harsh methods. “Especially after the 2019 riots, he had thousands of people arrested without evidence,” said Amnesty’s Bahreini. “Most of them were tortured. More than 500 people have been executed since he took office.”
While Raisi has been critical of contacts with the West in the past, he has recently declared himself in favor of a resumption of the 2015 international nuclear deal. issues. Raisi and his government are mainly concerned with domestic governance and the economy.
Many wonder if Khamenei (82) is preparing Raisi for his own succession despite his modest religious rank. Or does he prefer his son Mojtaba, now his right-hand man? Iran analyst Vaez considers the former unlikely. Vaez: “Machiavelli warned that ‘whoever causes someone else to become powerful is ruined’. Khamenei himself took steps to completely set aside the families of Khomeiny and (former president) Rafsanjani, who had played a key role in his elevating to the pinnacle of political power in Iran.”