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Iran crash: President Raisi’s fate raises concerns in Tehran over potential loss of loyalist

Eric Lob, Florida International University, The Conversation on

Published in Political News

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who remains missing after the helicopter he was in crashed on May 19, 2024, is a consummate loyalist whose death would be a blow to the country’s conservative leadership.

While search and rescue teams – hampered by rain, fog, forests and mountains – searched for wreckage, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the nation “should pray” for Raisi’s health.

As an expert on Iran’s domestic politics and foreign policy, I believe concern in Tehran may extend beyond the potential human tragedy of the crash. If Raisi were to die, it would have important implications for an Iranian state that is consumed by domestic chaos, and regional and international confrontation.

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Raisi has acted as an assiduous apparatchik of the Islamic Republic and a prominent protégé of Khamenei, who as supreme leader holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic.

Before becoming president in 2021, Raisi held various positions inside the judiciary under the purview of the supreme leader. As a prosecutor, and at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, he sat on the committee that sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death.

The executions earned him the nickname the “Butcher of Tehran” and subsequently subjected him to sanctions by the United States and to condemnation by the United Nations and international human rights organizations.

 

Since 2006, Raisi has served on the Assembly of Experts, a body that appoints and supervises the supreme leader.

And despite being seen as lacking charisma and eloquence, it was thought that Raisi, 63, was being groomed to succeed the 85-year-old Khamenei as supreme leader.

Domestically, Raisi’s presidency has been both the cause and consequence of a legitimacy crisis and societal chaos for the regime.

He controversially won the 2021 presidential election after a high number of candidate disqualifications by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates, and a historically low voter turnout of less than 50%.

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