Updated: June 30, 2021 7:57:54 am
The election of Ebrahim Raisi to the presidency in Iran will be widely viewed as a victory for the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In the eyes of many Iranian and international observers, it was nothing but an engineered selection by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of jurists and clerics that is closely aligned with the office of the Supreme Leader. The Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify many well-known figures of the Iranian political establishment, like former Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani, and twice President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came as a surprise to the Iranian voters and some political elites. None of Raisi’s vetted rivals, including the former head of Iran’s central bank, Abdolnaser Hemmati, represented a real threat to his candidacy and final election. According to the figures released by Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli on June 19, the voter turnout was 48.8 per cent, the lowest in a presidential election since 1979.
The election of Raisi as Iran’s new president marks the beginning of a new chapter in the country’s domestic and foreign policies. A hardliner, Raisi’s main challenge will be to protect and sustain the ideological framework of the 1979 Islamic Revolution while trying to respond to the general needs of the larger part of the Iranian population that suffers daily because of the regime’s political mismanagement and economic corruption. Though he has the full support of Ayatollah Khamenei and the military institutions, the new president will face difficulties in persuading his fellow Iranians to toe his line. Despite his relations with the Iranian judiciary, from being a member of a committee that ordered the execution of political activists in the 1980s to holding the offices of deputy chief justice, attorney general, and chief justice, Raisi is a cleric with very little experience of either politics or management.
On domestic policies, Raisi will certainly operate from a position of strength, especially now that the Iranian reform movement has been marginalised. Instead, he will sustain Iran’s revolutionary image and its Islamic values by confronting any opposition from the Iranian civil society or the so-called “moderates” of the Islamic regime. Last but not the least, following Ayatollah Khamenei’s political goal, the politically influential posts in Raisi’s cabinet will be held by loyal hardliners and some of the veterans of the IRGC: Raisi is expected to pick Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, a hardline cleric linked to the intelligence ministry, Alireza Zakani, the former secretary-general of the Alliance of Wayfarers of the Islamic Revolution, Mahmoud Nabavian, a cleric who has been a critic of Iran’s nuclear negotiations, and Parviz Fattah, who was director of IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation. One way or another, Raisi’s choices will have to fit into a framework of Ayatollah Khamenei and IRGC’s vision of an Islamic revolution and government.
As for foreign policy, Raisi will most probably follow the directives of the Supreme Leader on the nuclear agreements with the US and Europe. Raisi is not among those hardliners who attacked the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In the 2017 presidential election TV debate, Raisi presented the JCPOA as a “national decision”, and in one of his recent election debates, he said he would support reviving the nuclear agreement if it was in the interests of the Iranian people.
That said, it will be interesting to see how the Iranian people and the international community react to the political and economic policies of a cleric, who for more than three decades has been the instrument of Iran’s unelected deep state. Based on Raisi’s background and his previous statements, his presidency is likely to be ultraconservative but shunning adventurism. Raisi’s government is unlikely to be more successful than that of Hassan Rouhani in trying to resolve Iran’s difficulties with the United States and Europe in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon. The new president knows well that he will not be able to restore the regime’s popular legitimacy, but Raisi will try to deliver tangible improvement in governance in order to prevent the ship from sinking.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 30, 2021 under the title ‘New Face, Old Idea’. The writer is Noor-York Chair in Islamic Studies, York University, Toronto and professor-vice dean and director, Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace, Jindal Global University
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