Iran’s supreme leader in waiting

Iran’s supreme leader in waiting

Iran’s supreme leader in waiting
Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, June 15, 2021. (Reuters)
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Major signs point to the high probability that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has been selected to be the country’s next supreme leader.

The modus operandi of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has always been anchored in pointing an accusing finger at his presidents — across the political spectrum — for the country’s political and economic problems. By blaming other officials, Khamenei attempts to evade accountability and responsibility. This was the case with former presidents including the so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, and the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But Khamenei has taken a different approach when it comes to Raisi. In a surprising move, Khamenei, who frequently criticized the nuclear negotiations under Rouhani’s presidency, recently endorsed Raisi during a meeting with the latter’s hardline administration.

He remarked that the efforts of Raisi’s administration were “faithful and diligent” and the nuclear talks “are going ahead properly.” He added: “So far our negotiation team has resisted before the other party’s excessive demands and, God willing, (that resistance) will continue.

“There is nothing wrong with criticizing and commenting on their performance, as long as it is free from suspicion and pessimism and, as I have said many times, does not weaken the elements of the field and disappoint the people.”

Aside from the nuclear talks, Iran’s supreme leader has been commending Raisi in other areas as well. During a meeting with the head of the judiciary, and other officials, Khamenei stated: “Raisi was a prominent example of the jihadist movement that we always advocate, which is working day and night to achieve a good result.”

In addition, Khamenei added, Raisi “revived the people’s hope for the judiciary, and this matter is a great social wealth for the country … we must commend Sayyed Ebrahim Raisi for his tireless efforts during the two years and a bit more in which he was Chief Justice of Iran.”

There were indications several years ago that the regime was grooming Raisi to be the next supreme leader of Iran.

For instance, Raisi ran for president in 2017 and the regime was hoping that he would win. However, the theocratic establishment made several mistakes; the Guardian Council approved some moderates, probably thinking that people were less likely to vote for Rouhani a second time due to his administration’s mismanagement of the economy, as well as Rouhani’s failure to fulfill his campaign promises of improving people’s social, political and religious freedoms.

For many ordinary Iranians, the presidential election was a choice between bad and worse. As a result, they voted for the so-called moderate Rouhani to prevent the hardliner Raisi from winning. Rouhani won by a wide margin, claiming 57 percent of votes cast compared to Raisi’s 38.5 percent.

The next time around, the regime learned its lessons and the Guardian Council introduced many restrictions such as announcing that “all nominees must be between 40 and 70 years of age, hold at least a master’s degree or its equivalent, have work experience of at least four years in managerial posts … and have no criminal record.” The Guardian Council even disqualified some of the regime’s top insiders, such as Ali Larijani in order to remove any hurdles that might prevent Raisi from becoming president.

It is worth noting that Raisi fits what the Islamic Republic is looking for in the next supreme leader.

Raisi’s policies are aligned with those of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite branch, the Quds Force. He would probably allow the IRGC to wield more power in the country and in the region.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

First, he does not hesitate to use brutal force and crack down on any opposition, and those who stand against the regime. For example, when he was the deputy prosecutor of Tehran, he was involved in one of the world’s largest mass executions.

A US bipartisan Congressional resolution recently shed light on the scope and nature of this massacre, where thousands of people were executed, including children and pregnant women. According to the resolution “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 mainly targeted members of the opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Second, Raisi’s policies are aligned with those of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite branch, the Quds Force. He would probably allow the IRGC to wield more power in the country and in the region.

In summary, all developments point to the high likelihood that Raisi has been handpicked by Khamenei and the senior cadre of the IRGC to be the next supreme leader of Iran.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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