What does Ebrahim Raisi’s election victory mean for Iran and the world?

Iran President Hassan Rouhani, left, joins President-elect Ebrahim Raisi at a press conference to congratulate him on winning an election in which most serious rivals were excluded. (AFP)
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Iran President Hassan Rouhani, left, joins President-elect Ebrahim Raisi at a press conference to congratulate him on winning an election in which most serious rivals were excluded. (AFP)
Supporters of Iranian president-elect Ebrahim Raisi celebrate in Tehran on June 19, 2021, after he won the presidential election. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
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Supporters of Iranian president-elect Ebrahim Raisi celebrate in Tehran on June 19, 2021, after he won the presidential election. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Supporters of Iranian president-elect Ebrahim Raisi celebrate in Tehran on June 19, 2021, after he won the presidential election. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
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Supporters of Iranian president-elect Ebrahim Raisi celebrate in Tehran on June 19, 2021, after he won the presidential election. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rising poverty, growing unrest and an economy in crisis have rattled the Tehran regime. (AFP)
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Rising poverty, growing unrest and an economy in crisis have rattled the Tehran regime. (AFP)
Hassan Rouhani's moderate leadership was reportedly sidelined in conducting foreign policy by the warmongering Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). (AFP file photo)
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Hassan Rouhani's moderate leadership was reportedly sidelined in conducting foreign policy by the warmongering Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). (AFP file photo)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced harsh criticism from conservatives today over a poorly implemented scheme to distribute food to low-income families in the sanctions-hit Islamic republic.(AFP file photo)
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced harsh criticism from conservatives today over a poorly implemented scheme to distribute food to low-income families in the sanctions-hit Islamic republic.(AFP file photo)
An electoral campaign poster covers the facade of a building on Valiasr Square in Iran's capital Tehran on June 19, 2021, a day after the presidential election. (AFP / Atta Kenare)
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An electoral campaign poster covers the facade of a building on Valiasr Square in Iran's capital Tehran on June 19, 2021, a day after the presidential election. (AFP / Atta Kenare)
Voter turnout for Iran’s presidential poll was the lowest in decades. (AFP)
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Voter turnout for Iran’s presidential poll was the lowest in decades. (AFP)
With an ultraconservative sitting as president, the IRGC will have a freer hand in regional troublemaking adventures, critics warn. (Iranian Army Office photo via AFP)
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With an ultraconservative sitting as president, the IRGC will have a freer hand in regional troublemaking adventures, critics warn. (Iranian Army Office photo via AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2021

What does Ebrahim Raisi’s election victory mean for Iran and the world?

What does Ebrahim Raisi’s election victory mean for Iran and the world?
  • US-sanctioned judge becomes new president after election viewed as rigged in his favor
  • Whether Raisi can improve life for ordinary Iranians will be the determinant of its legacy

MISSOURI, US / IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: A popular Persian music video from several years back features a long line of sullen-looking people waiting to be served at a cafeteria. When their turn comes to choose, we see the grim-faced chef offer them the option of maggot-filled mystery meat or slime filled with flies.

Many Iranian artists engage in such oblique attacks on the clerical ruling class since direct criticism of the basic parameters of the political system remains forbidden. The victory of ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi in Friday’s presidential election highlighted Iranians’ lack of choice in such matters more than ever.

While it is not uncommon for voters in many countries to complain of lack of meaningful choice in elections, the Iranian case takes this phenomenon to new heights. The Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics and jurists (three of whom were appointed by Raisi), vets would-be political candidates.




Voter turnout for Iran’s presidential poll was the lowest in decades. (AFP)

By many estimates, the council rejects more than 90 percent of applicants who go through the trouble of applying to run for political office. This year it rejected the candidacy of not only popular reformist candidates allied with outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, but also of populist hardliners as well.

The list of candidates forbidden to run in the election thus included current vice-president Eshaq Jahingiri, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani (both allied with Rouhani), and the rightwing populist former president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. These are former political leaders of Iran, among the few allowed to run in previous elections and whose support for the basic tenets of the Islamic Republic seems beyond doubt.

 

Yet the Guardian Council still deemed them too much of a threat and disqualified their candidacy (along with that of any women, who are all barred from running in such elections). Unsurprisingly in such a climate, voter turnout appeared to have been the lowest in decades. 

How to judge the legitimacy of the Iranian presidential election then?




An electoral campaign poster covers the facade of a building on Valiasr Square in Iran's capital Tehran on June 19, 2021, a day after the presidential election. (AFP / Atta Kenare)

“That depends on how you define ‘legitimate’,” Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told Arab News. “The Guardian Council has always vetted out any candidates seen as insufficiently loyal to the system, although never before had the definition of ‘loyal’ contracted as much as it seemed to have for this election.”

Much less charitable than Slavin is Arash Azizi, author of “The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the US, and Iran’s Global Ambitions.” “Raisi won pretty much the same number of votes in 2021 as he had in 2017 as the losing candidate. But he won this time because the majority of people boycotted the elections,” Azizi told Arab News.

“Even if we believe the official figure, this is the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, and the first time a majority have not voted in a presidential election. Not to mention the nearly four million voters who spoiled their ballots.”

Aside from the lack of choice in political candidates, the most important decision-making posts in the country are not elected in any case. The supreme leader — currently Ayatollah Khamenei, who took over from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 — is nominally chosen by the Assembly of Experts. The heads of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are likewise not elected but make many of the most important policy decisions in the country.




Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AFP)

“Iranians were frustrated at the lack of choice and pessimistic about the prospects for a better life under this regime,” Slavin told Arab News. “For 25 years, they have turned out in large numbers in presidential elections in hopes of achieving peaceful evolutionary change.

“But while Iranian society has progressed, the system has become more repressive and less representative. Also, not voting is a form of protest in a system that regards voting as a patriotic duty.”

IRAN’S POLITICAL ECONOMY IN NUMBERS 

40 percent - Iran’s inflation rate in 2019.

5 percent - Jump in poverty rate over past two years.

3.7 million - People added to poverty roll in this period.

83 million - Population of Iran in 2019.

In the past, Khamenei and IRGC commanders preferred to allow limited choice in presidential elections and refrained from intervening too directly or obviously in the political process.

They would use the very restricted electoral system to gauge the popular mood, try and gain some legitimacy by claiming a democratic mandate, and sit back to see what political cards various elites in Iranian society would try to brandish.

Only when he perceived Iran to be veering too far off course would Khamenei step in publicly to make a correction.

Behind the scenes, of course, such unelected leaders played an active role in nearly everything, from economic policy and directives regarding executions of political prisoners to the strategy of Iran’s nuclear negotiations and other matters such as covert operations abroad and funding of various Iranian proxy forces in the region.




Rising poverty, growing unrest and an economy in crisis have rattled the Tehran regime. (AFP)

An economy in crisis and a growing number of popular protests in recent years seem to have rattled the regime, however. Under such conditions, the real leadership fears allowing Iranians even a semblance of choice in this year’s election.

Raisi’s appointment to the presidency therefore probably represents a message to the Iranian people most of all. A protege of Khamenei, Raisi is blamed by Iranian activists for the executions of tens of thousands of dissidents during the past three decades. They also claim that Raisi, as a junior prosecutor in the 1980s, headed “death committees” that buried slain political prisoners in mass graves in 1988.

According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, at that time Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was then the heir apparent to Ayatollah Khomeini, even condemned the death committees, saying: “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.”




Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced harsh criticism from conservatives today over a poorly implemented scheme to distribute food to low-income families in the sanctions-hit Islamic republic.(AFP file photo)

Even today, Iran stands second only to China — a much larger country — in the number of executions it carries out every year. These are carried out after closed-door kangaroo trials in which defendants are not allowed to even see the evidence against them or confront their accusers, with a disproportionate number of accused coming from ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. Iranian Kurds make up roughly half of those executed, although they constitute less than half of Iran’s population.

Raisi takes up the post of president after serving as chief of the judiciary that oversaw this system and its mass executions of dissidents. Before becoming chief justice in 2019, he served as attorney general (2014–2016), deputy chief justice (2004–2014), and prosecutor and deputy prosecutor of Tehran in the 1980s and 1990s.

He is the first Iranian official to enter the presidency while already under US and European sanctions for his past involvement in human rights abuses.

The message to the Iranian people would therefore seem quite clear: You must behave and stay in line or else.

“Khamenei and the clerical establishment have long made a conscious decision to drive out all political competition. The reformists were drowned in blood once the 2009 Iranian Green movement was crushed, with many of its leaders sent to jail for years and its main political parties banned,” Azizi told Arab News.

“The centrist wing of the regime, represented by Rouhani, was also subsequently pushed out of major positions of power. The pro-Khamenei conservatives now control the iudiciary, the parliament and the presidency. The latter two became possible only after all major electoral rivals were thrown out by the Guardian Council.” 




Hassan Rouhani's moderate leadership was reportedly sidelined in conducting foreign policy by the warmongering Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). (AFP file photo)

Comparing the present situation to the abolition in 1975 of the multi-party system by the shah of Iran, Azizi said: “This is  very much the Islamic Republic’s 1975 one-party state moment as some historians have pointed out. The regime might come to regret the day it turned itself into an ever more monolithic entity.”

Looking to the future, the Atlantic Council’s Slavin says a more pertinent question now than the presidential election’s legitimacy is whether the Raisi administration can improve life for ordinary Iranians as “that will be the determinant of its legacy.”

“Iranians may hope to see a slightly better economy if Tehran comes back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and sanctions are lifted again,” she said.

“But much depends on the competence or lack thereof of Raisi’s team and the appetite or lack thereof of foreign companies to invest in Iran. I would expect repression of dissent to continue and even accelerate.”

Azizi believes Raisi’s election will not lead to quick changes in people’s lives or a sharp turn in policies. “He will tread carefully as his main goal is to prepare for the day when Khamenei’s death brings a succession crisis and he can be in line to become the supreme leader,” he told Arab News.

“Interestingly enough, Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmod Vaezi recently speculated that people’s lives might improve under Raisi since there will be dealings with the West, possibly even a deal before Raisi takes office, which should take some pressure off the economy.”

That being said, what might Raisi’s elevation to the presidency mean for Iran’s relations with other countries?

Compared with the more affable and moderate Rouhani, Raisi seems less likely, able or willing to lead an Iranian charm offensive abroad. The style of Iranian diplomacy may therefore change a bit, but the substance or Iranian policy will likely differ little from that of the previous administration.

Rouhani was not the one making the most important Iranian foreign policy choices in any case. He was, along with his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, just the messenger.

“Iran’s policy in the Arab world was neither made nor implemented by the Rouhani administration, so a change in presidency won’t bring an immediate change on this count,” Azizi told Arab News. “But the IRGC will find more unrestricted access to state structures it doesn’t already control and will have a freer hand in regional adventures.”




With an ultraconservative sitting as president, the IRGC will have a freer hand in regional troublemaking adventures, critics warn. (Iranian Army Office photo via AFP) 

Slavin takes a more nuanced view of Iranian ambitions under Raisi’s watch. “I see him as risk-averse in foreign affairs in part because he hopes to succeed Khamenei,” she told Arab News.

“I think he will focus on stabilizing the economy and try to reduce tensions with the neighbors. However, he is not in charge of relations with the various militia groups. That will remain within the purview of the Quds Force.”

Tellingly, Raisi has made statements in the past indicating his willingness to accept international sanctions on Iran. He views such sanctions as an opportunity for Iran to further develop its own independent, “resistance” economy.

For ultraconservatives like him, too deep an integration with the world economy risks cultural and political perversion of Iran, so anything short of an American military invasion may be perfectly fine for Raisi and his mentor, Khamenei.

The Biden administration, which remains very much interested in resuming the nuclear accord, may thus find it difficult to negotiate with someone who does not seem to mind sanctions and a certain amount of isolation.

However, Azizi thinks the regime will try to seal a deal to get Washington to rejoin the nuclear accord before Raisi takes office in August. “Raisi will thus inherit this deal and maintain it,” he said, although some IRGC elements will be pushing him to permit “more adventurous stuff in the region” and reject Gulf states’ reconciliation and talks offers.

“How amenable he is to such pressure is an open question,” Azizi told Arab News.

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UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
Updated 17 min 5 sec ago

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
  • Israeli FM blames Iran for drone attack off Oman coast
  • UK govt spokesman: “Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law”

LONDON: Israel has told the UK to “respond severely” after a British citizen was killed in a drone attack on a ship in the Arabian Gulf.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed Iran for the attack which, US officials say, saw several drones laden with explosives flown into the Mercer Street tanker, one of which hit the crew’s living quarters.
The assault on the vessel, operated by Israeli-owned firm Zodiac Maritime, occurred off the coast of Oman on Friday, killing the Briton — who is thought to have been working as a security guard on board — and a Romanian citizen.
The UK government has yet to comment on who it believes is responsible for the attack, or to identify the deceased.
“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of a British national who has died following an incident on a tanker off the coast of Oman,” a UK government spokesman said.
“Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. We are working with our international partners to urgently establish the facts.”
Tensions between Iran and Israel have escalated in recent months amid talks between Tehran and Western nations in Vienna to reignite the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Israel is thought to be behind a series of strikes on Iran’s infrastructure relating to its uranium enrichment program.
Both sides are believed to have launched cyberattacks against each other and targeted their respective maritime links, including ships and ports.
“Iran is spreading violence and destruction in every corner of the region,” an Israeli official told the Daily Telegraph. “Due to its enthusiasm for attacking an Israeli target, they have gotten themselves tangled up and have incriminated themselves by killing foreign citizens.”
Iranian news network Al-Alam claimed that the attack on the Mercer Street was retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Iranian targets last week that killed two “resistance fighters.” Tehran, though, has yet to comment on Lapid’s accusation.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the US Foundation for Defense of Democracies said: “It would be no surprise to me that Iran would use a drone to carry out its tit-for-tat against Israel and maritime vessels. Iran has shown a gradual escalation in (the) maritime domain.”
He added: “This sort of tit-for-tat escalation is going to continue and Iran is likely to step up these attacks ... to signal that it will not take any cyber sabotage against it lying down.”


Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
Updated 31 July 2021

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JERUSALEM: Israel is pressing for international action against Iran over a deadly attack on a ship managed by an Israeli billionaire, branding Tehran an “exporter of terrorism” after the likely drone strike.
The MT Mercer Street tanker was struck Thursday in the northern Indian Ocean, killing two crew members, in what the United States said was a drone-style attack.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the strike, but maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said “this latest attack has the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”
On Friday Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”
“I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York,” Lapid said on Twitter.
“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all,” he said.
“We must never remain silent in the face of Iranian terrorism, which also harms freedom of navigation,” Lapid added.
Lapid said he had also spoken to his British counterpart Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”
Zodiac Maritime, the tanker’s London-based operator owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, said a Romanian national also died in the attack.
The Mercer Street, an oil products tanker, was traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo aboard when it was struck, Zodiac Maritime said.


The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag.
Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.
Israeli retired Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom said the attack appeared to copy elements of a reported Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.
Israel, Brom told AFP, “started developing drones and is among the first (countries) to develop the concept of a kamikaze.
“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques,” said Brom, now a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Iran’s strike marked “a certain escalation” but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said.
“They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation,” Brom added.
In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.
But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.


Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.
A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.
By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.
The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.
The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.
Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.
Dryad Global said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February. Two ships tied to Iran were attacked in that period, the firm said.


Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest
Updated 31 July 2021

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

TUNIS: Tunisian security forces placed a judge, accused by human rights groups of being close to Islamists and hiding terrorism-related files, under house arrest for 40 days, local Radio Mosaique FM said on Saturday.
The decision against Judge Bechir Akremi came after President Kais Saied pledged to lead a campaign against rampant corruption in all sectors to save the country, following his dismissal of the prime minister and freezing of parliament.
Tunisia has been thrust into a political crisis by Saied's move, leading major parties to accuse him of a coup, which he denies. Two lawmakers were also arrested after he decided to lift their immunity.


US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014
Updated 41 min 17 sec ago

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

DUBAI: The US-led coalition has provided the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth more than $5 billion since 2014, the bloc’s spokesman said Friday.

“Only in the last week, the international coalition equipped the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth 35 million dollars,” international coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Morato said.

“This is part of From the Fund for financing, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, which was supported by the American forces,” he added. 

This includes communications and intelligence equipment as well as other support, Morato added in a statement to the Iraqi News channel, carried by the Iraqi News Agency (INA). 

“The support will continue to support the Iraqi forces, and perhaps in the future and in light of the decision to withdraw combat forces, and it will be left to a decision by the Iraqi and American governments,” the spokesman said. 

Last week,  an Iraqi army official said that Iraq's relationship with the international coalition will be based on  fighting terrorism, providing training and equipment to Iraqi forces, and intelligence effort, the INA reported.


Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
Updated 31 July 2021

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
  • Yemeni official calls on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes

DUBAI: Areas in Yemen controlled by the Houthi militias have become the largest hotbeds of human trafficking, Muammar Al-Eryani, the conflict-ridden country’s information minister, said.

Al-Eryani issued the statement as the world celebrated International Day for Combating Human Trafficking on July 30.

The Houthi militia’s coup and war have undermined the efforts made by the state before 2014 in combating human trafficking in terms of regulations, laws and field procedures, the official said, in a report from state news agency Saba.

The militia’s “policy of child soldier recruitment, disappearance of women in secret prisons, sexual abuse, enforced waves of internal and external displacements, and high rates of poverty and unemployment, have made the areas under Houthi control the largest hotbeds of human trafficking in the world,” Al-Eryani said.

The Yemeni official called on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes in human trafficking and to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice by treating them as “war criminals.”