Ebrahim Raisi, who for decades led a mass campaign to purge the Iranian political system’s opponents, will be Iran’s next president. Throughout his presidency Raisi must remain loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The latter has amassed excessive powers over the decades and its primary aim is to ensure the system’s survival, no matter the cost.
Raisi will take office in early August amid rising domestic, regional and international concerns about him. Voter turnout in Iran’s June 18 presidential race was less than 50 percent. Opponents of the presidential race argue that a low voter turnout reflects a referendum for change. Polls collated before the presidential race indicated nationwide turnout rates of 37 percent to 47 percent. Voter turnout in Tehran was only 26 percent.
Raisi won more than 50 percent of all votes, tallied at 17.8 million, to win the presidential race. Raisi’s opponents fear he will launch a harsh crackdown against the rising number of protests in Iran. Raisi was Iran’s chief justice when mass protests broke out across the country over the last few years because of deteriorating socio-economic conditions. The families of protesters or innocent bystanders shot dead by security forces were unable to seek justice when Raisi was chief justice. Therefore, not surprisingly, several campaigns led inside and outside Iran called for the presidential election to be boycotted to express disapproval at the engineered race in favor of Raisi.
Iran’s president-elect is even less popular among hardcore revolutionaries who support the Iranian political system. Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refused to vote as did a record number of politicians from both the “reformist” and “conservative” camps. Iran’s former “reformist” President Mohammad Khatami said that the presidential race is alarming for the country’s future. Ali Motahari, a “hardline” but former reform-minded lawmaker, said it is critical that Raisi helps to remove the US-led sanctions imposed on Iran and addresses the grievances of those who lost loved ones in the recent protests. Other domestic opposition figures said the engineered presidential race was an insult to the people of Iran.
Internationally, Raisi also has a poor reputation. Amnesty International called for investigations into Raisi’s alleged role in crimes against humanity. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Raisi oversaw the execution over the course of three months of 4,500 to 5,000 political prisoners. Many were teenagers at the time of their arrest. In his first press interview after the election, Raisi said he should be praised for his role in the handling of the executions in 1988.
There is growing concern beyond Iran’s borders over the election result. The White House insists that Raisi must respond to questions about his role in violating human rights, but it did not specify the 1988 executions.
After receiving a briefing from Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the current status of the Vienna negotiations, Raisi warned that although he supports the negotiations, he will not allow them to drag on. Previously, Raisi opposed the nuclear talks during his presidential campaign four years ago. Raisi has also reiterated that he will not negotiate Iran’s ballistic missile program nor its regional behavior.
Only a handful of regional countries have congratulated Raisi on his victory, and he has vowed to engage with Iran’s neighbors. However, only days after Raisi’s election, the Iranian-backed Houthi militias launched over a dozen drones targeting Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom insists it will judge Iran’s new president based on how he directs Iran’s foreign policy. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is working closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure Iranian nuclear compliance. Naftali Bennet, Israel’s new prime minister, slammed Raisi, referring to Iran’s government as “mass murderers” and said global powers must wake up to the threat that Tehran poses to regional and global peace. There is a possibility that Israel could be preparing to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.
Clearly, Raisi’s victory comes at a critical juncture for Iran’s foreign relations. Not only is Iran’s domestic politics in tatters, but it is also facing growing regional and international pressure. Washington has also moved to close down several international television networks linked to Iran, including at least one operated by the Houthis, since Raisi’s election. Meanwhile, Iran continues to enrich uranium at high levels, hence heightening international concerns regarding Tehran’s intentions to develop nuclear weapons at some point in the future.
In light of the above, it seems that Raisi faces an impossible task to rise above the multiple and complicated challenges facing the country which casts a shadow of doubt over his presidency from day one.