Has Ebrahim Raisi been tagged as Iran’s next Supreme Leader?

Raisi is viewed as hardline and there would be major implications for the US and Israel if he succeeds Khamenei as opposed to some more reform-minded candidates.

By
August 8, 2019 04:29
4 minute read.
Iranian Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign meeting at the Mosalla mosque

Iranian Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign meeting at the Mosalla mosque in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Recent months have seen growing signs that the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, has emerged as the leading candidate to succeed Ali Khamenei as supreme leader, Iran expert Raz Zimmt wrote in an INSS posting on Wednesday.

Raisi is viewed as hard-line and there would be major implications for the United States and Israel if he succeeds Khamenei as opposed to some more reform-minded candidates.

Zimmt said that since Raisi’s appointment as head of the judiciary in March 2019, the conservative cleric has expanded his efforts to advance changes in the legal system, improve his public image and increase his media exposure.

This would always be important for someone like Raisi who is on the short list to succeed the 80-year-old Khamenei.

But the new marketing effort and the fact that Khamenei is overtly supporting these efforts take on even larger significance when viewed in light of Raisi’s loss to Hassan Rouhani in the May 2017 presidential elections by a vote total of 23 million to 16 million.

Khamenei’s message appears to be clear: He does not care that Raisi lost to Rouhani. He wants Raisi as his successor or at least wants to continue to promote him as a leading figure.

Zimmt did note that “it is still too early to assess Raisi’s chances of winning the battle of succession for the leadership of Iran, which will necessarily be affected by the timing of Khamenei’s departure from the political map.”

However, he added that Raisi’s “closeness to the supreme leader, his experience in the judicial authority, his tenure as chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi Foundation (and the Imam Reza Shrine) in the city of Mashhad, and his hard-line positions, alongside his increasing efforts to improve his public standing, make him the leading candidate at this stage in the battle of succession.”

RAISI WAS born in December 1960 in the city of Mashhad.

Since the early 1980s, he has filled a series of positions in the judicial system, including Tehran prosecutor, head of the General Inspection Office of the judicial authority, first deputy chief justice, and attorney-general of Iran.

In 2016, he was appointed by the supreme leader as chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi foundation in Mashhad, which, Zimmt wrote, is a powerful foundation that controls significant Islamic trusts, a wide range of assets, and large budgets.

Besides those posts, Raisi serves as a member of the Expediency Council, and as deputy chairman of the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for overseeing the supreme leader’s activity, appointing his successor and even potentially removing him from office if he is found unfit to continue to serve.

Shortly after he became head of the judiciary, Raisi announced changes, including achieving greater efficiency. Zimmt said that Raisi placed the war on corruption high on his agenda. For example, Raisi dismissed dozens of judges who were accused of involvement in corruption.

In addition, Raisi announced he was reducing how many bank accounts he had and would issue annual reports. This seemed to be to differentiate himself from his predecessor, Sadeq Larijani, who allegedly held more than 60 bank accounts with funds from citizens who had cases in the courts, wrote Zimmt.

Also, Raisi worked to increase his media exposure and improve his public image, particularly following his election loss to Rouhani.

He had appeared “as a dull candidate lacking charisma, who had difficulty compensating for his lack of political experience,” said Zimmt.

In mid-June 2019, Raisi published an unusual post on his Instagram account, calling on Iranians to contact him through his personal social media accounts to suggest necessary improvements to the judicial system.

Zimmt wrote, “This initiative was warmly received, particularly by the pro-reform media, which expressed the hope that this would lead to a reexamination of the current policy of blocking social networks, and would strengthen the public’s trust in the judicial system.”

Likewise, in the same month, the Iranian media published pictures showing Raisi traveling to work on Tehran’s metro, apparently in order to strengthen his image as leading a simple and modest lifestyle, and he granted an extensive media interview during Judiciary Week.

Raisi has had problems with the reformist camp of Iranians due to his involvement in the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, said Zimmt.

Rouhani himself hinted at Raisi’s past when he stated in one of his election speeches that Iranian citizens no longer want someone who spent 38 years imprisoning and executing them.

To counter this, Zimmt said, Raisi has issued a number of statements about improving the status of women in the country.

Like Khamenei, Raisi has been a public skeptic of the 2015 nuclear deal and is strongly allied with the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In recent years, other names have been raised alongside Raisi’s, such as Larijani, Rouhani and even the supreme leader’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei. Though a firm member of the establishment, Rouhani is viewed as more open to the West than Khamenei or Raisi and as more likely to try to defuse, rather than exacerbate, crises and confrontations.

Zimmt wrote that a member of the Assembly of Experts, senior cleric Mohsen Araki, confirmed in a recent interview to the Fars news agency that a three-member committee holds a secret list of a number of possible candidates to succeed Khamenei, should the need suddenly arise to replace the aging leader after his 30-year rule.


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