Ebrahim Raisi

Ebrahim Raisi

1st Tier: Custodian of Astan Quds Razavi
Raisi

Conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi has largely avoided the limelight in his decades-long career as a government official until recent months, which have witnessed a concerted campaign to boost his public profile. Like Supreme Leader Khamenei, Raisi hails from the city of Mashhad, and his extensive political and familial connections to Khamenei and his inner circle are the key to understanding his engineered rise to prominence. Many analysts speculate that Khamenei is grooming Raisi as his designated successor.

Raisi first encountered Khamenei as a young seminarian in the holy city of Qom at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Raisi was among 70 students selected for a crash course in governance, where Khamenei was one of his teachers. Raisi began his career as a prosecutor at age 20 and although he lacked a brilliant legal mind, he rose through the ranks of the judiciary by demonstrating loyalty to Iran's revolutionary principles and willingness to sentence dissidents and political prisoners to death. Most notably, in 1988, he was a member of a four-man panel that sentenced thousands of dissidents and leftists to be executed.

Raisi is married to the daughter of Ayatollah Alam al-Hoda, a reactionary cleric also from Mashhad who has been a key Khamenei ally since he assumed the role of supreme leader. Raisi also counts Khamenei's son, Mojtaba as a prominent backer. These family connections have cemented Khamenei's trust in Raisi and boosted him throughout his career, particularly in the last year.

In March of 2016, Supreme Leader Khamenei tapped Raisi to head Astan Quds Razavi, Iran's largest charity and the overseer of the Imam Reza Shrine, one of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam and a large source of revenue for the regime. Raisi's appointment offers him the opportunity to court powerful backers and build a patronage network of his own. Also indicative of the effort to elevate his profile, Raisi was given an audience with top IRGC brass, including Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and IRGC chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, both of whom praised Raisi effusively. Iran's state-run media has also increased its coverage of Raisi, highlighting his speeches and touting his work on behalf of Iran's poor.

Relations with the Supreme Leader

Raisi has emerged as Khamenei's preferred candidate in the coming election, as indicated by the unprecedented public relations campaign surrounding Raisi. In addition to his personal connections to Khamenei, Raisi shares an ideological affinity with the supreme leader and has proved willing to do his bidding, as indicated by his track record of crushing dissent. Raisi shares Khamenei’s mistrust of the U.S. and favors a confrontational posture. On April 26, he stated, “Today Americans are afraid of the word 'Iran.' ...This is the solution. The solution is not backing down. We must force them to retreat."

Raisi has aligned himself with Khamenei’s vision for economic self-sufficiency under the “resistance economy” paradigm. On April 25, the Supreme Leader called for the presidential candidates to “promise the people that in order for the country to progress, for economic growth and to untie the knots, their eyes won’t be set outside our borders but on the nation itself.” Raisi has vowed to make job creation a key pillar of his campaign, calling for a government of “dignity and work.” Raisi has struck an economically populist tone throughout the campaign, calling for the amelioration of growing income inequality, pledging to increase cash subsidies to poor Iranians, and railing against corruption which he attributes to Rouhani’s presidency.

Electoral Prospects

Many view Raisi's candidacy as a springboard to eventually succeeding Khamenei as Supreme Leader. As such, it is highly unlikely that Khamenei would give Raisi's candidacy his blessing and risk harming his reputation if he did not have a serious chance of winning, either through legitimate or illegitimate means. While Raisi is running independent of the Principlist camp's electoral coalition, the Popular Front of Revolutionary Forces (JAMNA), the bloc has now coalesced around him.

Raisi’s electoral prospects were given a boost following conservative Tehran mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf’s announcement on May 15 that he is withdrawing from the race and throwing his support behind Raisi. "I ask all my supporters to contribute their full capacity and support for the success of my brother, Ebrahim Raisi," said Qalibaf, who is now a likely front-runner to serve as Raisi’s principal vice-president, should he win. Qalibaf brings significant political and administrative experience to the table which Raisi lacks, and could lend an air of technocratic competence that would reassure voters wary of placing their trust in a political neophyte. It remains to be seen whether Qalibaf’s Tehran backers will migrate into Raisi’s camp now, or support Rouhani instead. But Qalibaf’s exit solidifies the unity of the Principlist camp and ensures a tighter race.

Raisi’s electoral prospects were given a boost following conservative Tehran mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf’s announcement on May 15 that he is withdrawing from the race and throwing his support behind Raisi. "I ask all my supporters to contribute their full capacity and support for the success of my brother, Ebrahim Raisi," said Qalibaf, who is now a likely front-runner to serve as Raisi’s principal vice-president, should he win. Qalibaf brings significant political and administrative experience to the table which Raisi lacks, and could lend an air of technocratic competence that would reassure voters wary of placing their trust in a political neophyte. It remains to be seen whether Qalibaf’s Tehran backers will migrate into Raisi’s camp now, or support Rouhani instead. But Qalibaf’s exit solidifies the unity of the Principlist camp and ensures a tighter race. On May 17, conservative candidate Mostafa Mirsalim, who had negligible support, withdrew from the race as well.

Raisi's sojourn into the spotlight has reawakened controversy due to the emergence of an audio tape corroborating Raisi's role in the 1988 mass execution of dissidents. The key question is whether Khamenei's backing and a unified conservative movement, which stands as Raisi's primary strengths, can overcome his lack of political experience, his lack of charisma, and the intense antipathy many feel toward Raisi for his decades as a ruthless regime enforcer. The key to a Raisi victory may be his economic message. If enough voters are either swayed by his populist promises, or feel sufficiently alienated to not vote due to Rouhani’s failure to deliver social and economic improvements, then Rouhani may become the first Iranian president to lose a reelection bid.

Photo © AFP Photo/Atta Kenare