Who is the ultra-conservative favorite Ebrahim Raisi?
Ebrahim Raisi, head of the judiciary, is the current favorite to win the Iranian presidential election on June 18. This 60-year-old traditionalist cleric is a close ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose trust he has gained over the years. by occupying key positions of power.
Ultra-conservative Raisi is one of seven remaining candidates, including five conservatives, who were allowed by Iran’s election monitoring body to run in the June 18 presidential election.
After banning the candidacy of the most prominent reformists on May 25, the Iranian Guardian Council appears to offer Raisi victory on a plateau.
The council’s decision was initially endorsed by Khamenei, though he backed down somewhat last Friday by claiming that some of the unsuccessful candidates in this month’s presidential election had been ‘wronged’ and unfairly slandered online . Despite this, the Guardian Council said its original decision to ban them was still in effect.
Raisi was already the frontrunner, but now the Iranian reformist press is calling him a “matchless candidate.”
Unsuccessful candidate in the 2017 election against Hassan Rouhani, Raisi returns this time to the forefront of the Iranian political scene with new momentum behind him, reinforced by the 38% of the votes he obtained in the previous election against the now outgoing president.
Raisi is a trusted confidant of Khamenei, who was one of his seminary teachers. Although he wears a turban, Raisa is not an Ayatollah, he is a Hujjat al-Islam, a lower rank of the Shiite clergy. He is also a sayyid – a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad in Shia Islam. This gives him the right to wear the black turban, a distinction popular among the pious electorate.
Elections in Iran: The head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi is on the verge of becoming the next president. A human rights group unveils its long record of human rights violations:https://t.co/pzhKb8IGkZ Going through @ICHRI
– Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) June 3, 2021
Key positions of power
Like the Supreme Leader, Raisi is from the holy city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran. It is no coincidence that in 2016 Khamenei appointed him to head the powerful religious foundation Astan Quds Razavi. The foundation manages the shrine of Imam Reza – the eighth successor of the Prophet according to the duodecimal Shiites – and is located in the same city of Mashhad.
This great Shia pilgrimage site attracts billions of euros in donations, funds controlled by the organization Astan Quds Razavi. The foundation, which functions as both a charity and a holding company, owns a multitude of real estate, farmland and businesses in fields as diverse as construction, tourism, agriculture and food. To lead this foundation is to lead an economic empire. Raisi did this for three years, before being summoned by Khamenei to take on a different role.
In March 2019, he was appointed head of the Iranian judicial authority. It was another influential appointment for Raisi, to whom Khamenei had entrusted the task of aggressively fighting “corruption”.
A loyal Khamenei soldier, Raisi has stepped up widely publicized corruption trials since taking office. He targeted state officials and also, in a new fashion, judges.
These trials enabled him to oust some major political opponents, such as his predecessor at the head of justice, Sadeq Larijani, whose close advisor was involved in one of these corruption scandals. Larijani is also the brother of Ali Larijani, whose own presidential candidacy was banned by the Council of Guardians, probably because of this family affair.
Raisi has made the fight against corruption one of his campaign slogans. In a statement, he presented himself as “the adversary of corruption, inefficiency and aristocracy” and pledged to fight relentlessly “against poverty” if elected.
A figure hostile to the West
If Raisi becomes president, this proponent of a “state” vision should not be advocating opening up the Iranian economy to foreign investors. “Iran under Raisi is most likely to continue investing in infrastructure, water, electricity and health, with an economy dominated by foundations it knows well and Revolutionary Guards [who also own many companies]”, explains economist and Iran specialist Thierry Coville, in an interview with FRANCE 24.
The researchers estimate that these semi-public actors currently represent more than 50% of the Iranian economy, but that the phenomenon remains difficult to quantify because these companies do not have “clear traceability” and operate in a system which protects them.
As for the Iranian nuclear deal being negotiated, although Raisi is a challenge to the West, he should not explicitly oppose it, according to Coville. He recalls that it is always “the supreme guide who sets the tone for these negotiations”.
A traditionalist cleric
On the issue of moral liberation, Raisi has the support of the hardliners. His stepfather is none other than Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the representative of the Supreme Leader in the province of Khorasan (northeast).
Known for his austerity, the cleric had distinguished himself in 2016 by banning concerts of Iranian music in the city of Mashhad, placed under his religious authority. They were in full swing after being allowed in other major cities of modernized Iran, but Alamolhoda was determined not to let them take place in his city.
“We should know that we live in the city where Imam Reza is buried. It is not possible to organize concerts in Imam Reza’s city, and we should not argue with people and some narrow-minded officials about it. If you want a gig, go live somewhere else, ”he said.
Among human rights organizations and especially among the Iranian diaspora, the name of Raisi, which refers to the darkest hours of the Islamic Republic, is causing a lot of concern.
The ultra-conservative, who has been in charge of justice for more than two decades, most notably as deputy prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran in the late 1980s, has participated as a judge in a series of political trials in 1988. In the end among them, hundreds of imprisoned opponents were executed. It is a judicial past that Raisa’s detractors still blame him for today, but which gives him even more legitimacy in the eyes of the powerful conservative Iranian population.
Potential successor to the Supreme Leader
Raisa is even considered a likely successor to the Supreme Leader. He was recently elected vice-president of the Assembly of Experts, the body responsible for proposing a new supreme leader in the event of Khamenei’s death.
He is only missing a place at the head of the executive to have completed the tour of Iranian institutions. If he wins this presidential election, he will acquire the popular legitimacy that he still lacks. It should be remembered that Khamenei was himself President of Iran when he was called upon to assume the post of Supreme Leader in 1989, following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Considering Khamenei’s age – he’s 82 – and questions about his health, there are very real suggestions that the next president might indeed be his successor. This election could be Raisi’s stepping stone to the post of supreme leader.
This article has been translated from the original into French.