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Ebrahim Raisi, likely next Iranian president, could bring the country back to a dark past


Amid these waves of change, the Iranian political elite have decided that the next face of the Islamic Republic should be a figure steeped in its conservative roots and directly linked to some of the darkest chapters in its history.

While the outcome of the vote seems to be decided in advance, what his election will mean for the country is far from clear. Analysts said the election of Raisi, a close ally of Khamenei, could signal a nationwide crackdown on dissent and a return to a more closed Iran globally, at a pivotal time.

Raisi has played a role for decades in a bloody crackdown on Iranian dissidents. The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) charged him with crimes against humanity for being part of a four-man “death committee” which oversaw the execution of up to 5,000 political prisoners in 1988.

Raisi has never commented on these allegations, but it is widely believed that he rarely leaves Iran for fear of retaliation or international justice for the executions.

More recently, his two years as Iran’s chief justice have been marked by intensified repression of dissent and human rights violations, according to CHRI. Among the many radical moves during his tenure was the first execution in decades of a man for alcohol consumption.

Late last year, a young wrestler was hanged in what human rights groups called a “parody of justice” on suspicion of being linked to his participation in the 2018 anti-government protests.

“Iran is becoming an even more repressive state and with someone with blood on their hands like Ebrahim Raisi [as President], you might see things going in a darker direction than we’ve seen in recent memory, ”said Holly Dagres, Iranian expert and non-resident senior researcher at the Atlantic Council.

“Iran is moving in a direction of isolation similar to North Korea,” she added. “Iran has only two friends in the international community [Russia and China] and the path he chooses is to canvass a very talented and educated population. ”

A selection or an election?

While Raisi has drawn the wrath of Iranian activists, so has how he became the next likely president.

The country’s Guardian Council, an influential governing body that oversees the elections, disqualified all major reformist and centrist candidates last month, while the main conservatives withdrew in an effort to increase Raisi’s chances of victory.

The process has been widely criticized, even by Khamenei, who called the disqualifications “unfair”. The remarks were dismissed by many as an attempt by the Supreme Leader – the country’s final arbiter in all state matters – to play the role of “good cop” in a cheeky attempt to organize the race.

“Elections in Iran have never been free or fair, but they have tended to be competitive and quite decisive,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute. “This time around, however, the degree to which the Guardian Council has narrowed the spectrum of acceptable options is beyond what we have seen in the past.”

“As a result, we have voices within the system itself calling for a boycott of the vote. This is a completely new scenario,” Parsi added.

Ebrahim Raisi, likely next Iranian president, could bring the country back to a dark past

On social media, discussions between activists are reminiscent of the Green Movement of 2009, when protesters took to the streets to oppose the re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in what was widely seen as a fraudulent election.

Echoes on online platforms have been the rejection of Iran’s “selection” rather than the election of its next president.

“It’s a clerical establishment that doesn’t even care what the Iranians think anymore because they are prepared not to even hold competitive elections,” Dagres said. “What we’re seeing right now is a one-horse race.”

While the popular Green Movement song was “Where’s my vote?” now the Iranians are using platforms like Clubhouse to say ‘Where is my candidate? Said Dagrés.

Iranians have taken to the streets several times in recent months to protest the dire economic situation, which has been exacerbated by crushing US sanctions and reportedly widespread government corruption. In an apparent attempt to allay such frustrations, Raisi is relying on an anti-corruption platform – although as a justice chief his crackdown on corruption has largely targeted his political rivals, activists have said. and experts.

An old candidate for the new times

Many experts see this election as one of the byproducts of former President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran, when the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal as Tehran backed down. was in compliance with the terms of the pact.

Starting in 2018, Trump unleashed a torrent of sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy and emboldened hardliners. The tiny window of opportunity afforded by the clerical class to President Hassan Rouhani’s moderate government to engage with the United States and Europe began to close quickly.

Trump had proven that the extremists’ skepticism of the West was correct, Iranian conservatives have repeatedly said. The country’s reformist camp has been undermined and the conservatives swept away the legislative elections in 2020. If Raisi wins the election, and with hard-line supporters deeply entrenched in the justice system, Iranian conservatives should control all three branches of government. .

Still, the election is unlikely to impact on-going negotiations with the Biden administration and world powers over reviving the nuclear deal; the talks are said to be in their final stages. Dialogue with Riyadh is also unlikely to be affected by a Raisi presidency, as strategic decisions are largely left not to the president, but to the Supreme Leader.

Ebrahim Raisi, likely next Iranian president, could bring the country back to a dark past

But experts say Iran is unlikely to engage with the West beyond that point, content to strengthen relations with Russia and China. He may also abandon any semblance of democracy as he becomes less sensitive to Western criticism of his rights violations following the possible restoration of the nuclear deal.

It’s a gamble that can only work in favor of the clerical establishment in the short term, according to experts, who point to the low turnout in parliamentary elections last year. Turnout is also expected to be historically low in this presidential election.

“(The establishment) don’t want surprises. They just want to deal with the outcome. It’s not about Raisi or anyone else,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, London-based Iranian scholar and editor. chief of Amwaj.media.

“The circle of power has become much smaller. We saw this same dynamic in 2009… you leave a lot of people out of the process and that inherently brings instability.”

The bet of the clerics also comes at a critical moment. Historically, most Iranian presidents have two four-year terms, and Raisi’s tenure may not survive Khamenei, who turns 82 next month. If the Ayatollah dies or is incapacitated, experts say it could pave the way for Raisi, his longtime associate, to take the helm as Iran’s supreme leader.

This period, according to experts, will probably be even more loaded with calls for constitutional reform in connection with the succession of leaders.

“When Khamenei dies, what will happen then? Will everything fall apart? Are you going to have an orderly transition to the next ruler? Are you going to have constitutional reforms?” Shabani said.

“This is not all about a president. This is about the future of the political system.”

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