Who is Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi?

Who is Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi?

Until few months ago, his name was unknown to the world. In a short period of time, Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi rose to be in the international spotlight. Born in 1960 in a religious district in northern Mashhad, Raisi began his religious studies at early age in city of Qom, the world center for Shiite studies.
During the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, he seized the opportunity and showed his loyalty to the revolutionary ideal of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding father of the Islamic Republic.
Soon after the revolution, with no prior experience in the field and at a very young age, Raisi was appointed to be the chief prosecutor of Karaj, the fourth largest city in Iran. In addition, he was simultaneously appointed to be prosecutor of Hamadan province in western Iran.
From the viewpoint of the ruling cleric and the political establishment, Raisi was successful at proving his loyalty as a prosecutor in the first few years of the revolution. He reportedly silenced many dissidents and opposition groups. In his later positions, Raisi wielded even more power, and would directly communicate with former Supreme Leader Khomeini, and receive instructions from him.
Raisi’s success led to his appointment as the deputy prosecutor of Tehran, which is often criticized as the platform from which one of the world’s largest mass executions would occur.
A US bipartisan Congressional resolution recently shed light on the scope and nature of this mass massacre, where over 30,000 people were executed including children and pregnant women. The resolution said that “over a four-month period in 1988, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out the barbaric mass executions of thousands of political prisoners and many unrelated political groups... According to a report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the massacre was carried out pursuant to a fatwa, or religious decree, issued by then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that targeted the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).” Raisi has never expressed regrets or apologized for those executions and his actions.

The member of the ‘Death Commission’ responsible for thousands of executions is seen as a suitable presidential candidate by the IRGC.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Iran’s former grand ayatollah, the late Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who fiercely condemned the executions, named Raisi as one of the major orchestrators of the executions. He said: “I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic since the (1979) revolution and history will condemn us for it…. History will write you down as criminals.”
Born in Esfahan, Iran, Montazeri was one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, a human rights activist, Islamic theologian and the designated successor to the Islamic revolution’s Supreme Leader Khomeini, until the very last moments of Khomeini’s life. His pictures were posted next to Khomeini’s in the streets. But because of Montazeri’s stance against the ruling political establishment and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Ali Khamenei was chosen as supreme leader after Khomeini’s death.
After the first decade of cracking down on opposition, facilitating executions, and consolidating the power of the Islamic Republic, Raisi climbed the political ladder swiftly. He was appointed the prosecutor of Tehran, head of the General Inspection Office, Attorney General of Iran, and finally he was appointed under the Hassan Rouhani government to head Astan Quds Razavi, which has billions of dollars in revenues. Rouhani’s government promoted other members of the “Death Commission” as well, including Mostafa Pourmohammadi — former representative of the intelligence ministry to the notorious Evin prison — who was appointed as justice minister.
The IRGC and current Supreme Leader Khamenei appear to be fond of Raisi. As Iran’s current supreme leader’s health is said to be deteriorating, Raisi seems to be a suitable candidate in the eyes of the IRGC. He would allow the IRGC to wield its power with no opposition or restriction. He would not oppose the IRGC’s crackdown and reliance on hard power. He is also similar in position to Khamenei when the latter was chosen as Iran’s supreme leader. Although Iran’s supreme leader has to be a grand ayatollah, Khamenei, like Raisi, was a normal cleric when he was appointed. Raisi is also young, as Khamenei was when he appointed; his young age would remove the risk of going through the process of finding another supreme leader for decades to come.
In the process of grooming him for the potential position of becoming the next supreme leader, the IRGC has masterfully and swiftly managed to make Raisi known to the Iranian people and the world through the Guardian Council and the presidential election. The Guardian Council, the IRGC’s ally, placed Rouhani against Raisi and disqualified many other candidates.
The presidential election is a stepping stone and significant platform being utilized by the gilded circle of power to significantly promote some favored individuals, who are loyal to the IRGC and Khamenei.
But Iran human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has strongly criticized Raisi’s candidacy. And Ahmad Montazeri — son of Hussein-Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s former heir — has said Raisi’s presidential candidacy is a “joke” and “an insult to Iranian people.”
Indeed, many Iranians question why someone with such a notorious profile would be qualified and running for presidency.  

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.

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