Ebrahim Raisi Becomes Iran’s New President

Hardline cleric close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could introduce major changes in the country’s policies.

Ultra-conservative judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, has been sworn into office, following his election victory in June. Raisi succeeds Hassan Rouhani which was seen as relatively moderate and could introduce major shifts in the Islamic Republic’s policies.

Today the new President has taken the oath before parliament, but officially began his four-year mandate on Tuesday after he was tasked with leading the government by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “In a transfer of power, new ideas and new resolve enter the field, and this is a source of hope for all those who are highly motivated to serve the country, in particular the youth,” Khamenei said in a speech on Monday.

His election has come from a record-low turnout, signaling Iranians growing apathy and disillusionment with their leaders. These elections were criticized as “uncompetitive after an unelected panel of clerics and lawyers barred all the major reformist and centrist candidates from running, all but guaranteeing Raisi’s victory”, recalls CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen, Claudia Otto, and Ramin Mostaghim.

Particularly problematic has been his human rights alleged attacks. Mr. Raisi has been accused of being involved in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. According to the BBC, “he was one of four judges who sat on secret tribunals that came to be known as the Death Committee.” He said the sentences were justified because then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, a religious ruling.

Dark clouds on the horizon

His appointment comes at challenging times in Iran. The country’s economy has suffered from harsh US sanctions on its oil industry imposed by former President Donald Trump and from the US withdrawal of a multilateral deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, the country is the worst-hit COVID-19 country in the region, and for the past three days has seen its highest number of cases.

Moreover, during these past weeks, angry demonstrations have spread from the region of Khuzestan to other cities of Iran. These protests fuelled by economic desperation and the growing frustration of Iranian society, which have seen a sharp rise in the cost of living, leave a hard situation to handle for Raisi. Power cuts, low wages, poor working conditions, 50% of inflation, and extended unemployment must be fixed.

There is also increasing international tensions for a deadly drone attack on a tanker near Oman last week, which Iran has denied authority. British and Romanian security guards were killed when the MV Mercer Street was struck. According to the BBC, Britain, the US and Israel accused Iran of carrying it out.

Some analysts are pointing out the possibility of Iran’s economic policy being transformed into a “resistance economy” that would make Iran’s economy independent from outside powers and try to foster homegrown industries, according to CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen, Claudia Otto, and Ramin Mostaghim. This would be a change from Raisi’s predecessor that was keen to open Iran up to foreign investment.

Relations with the US could become tenser as the new Iran’s President has a strong majority in parliament, which will allow him to make legislation that could lead to standoffs with the US. While US President, Joe Biden, wants to talk about Iran’s ballistic missile program, Raisi simply responds “No!”. Other conflicts might be eased such as the frozen relationship with Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia since Raisi considers reopening Iranian and Saudi embassies in Riyadh and Tehran.

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