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Iran Mourns President Ebrahim Raisi: Exploring Potential Successors and Policy Changes

The Islamic Republic of Iran's last presidential election in 2021 saw consolidated control over every aspect of the country by Iranian conservatives. That year, Ebrahim Raisi won the presidency in a landslide, replacing Hassan Rouhani. However, Raisi’s presidential tenure presided over a tumultuous time in Iranian politics, which oversaw anti-government protests in 2022 and the ongoing war in Gaza. Meanwhile, despite these circumstances, many foreign affairs experts and Iran analysts considered Raisi a strong candidate to be the nation’s next Supreme Leader. Raisi recently passed away in a helicopter crash on May 19 after meeting with the Azerbaijani President. The crash claimed the lives of Raisi, Iran’s foreign minister and other Iranian government officials. No American or Israeli involvement is suspected, and the crash most likely occurred due to poor weather.


Following Raisi’s death, Supreme Leader Khamenei declared five days of national mourning, during which hundreds gathered in Tehran. Former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed the United States for the crash, citing the American embargo on the sale of aircraft and aviation parts to Iran. Some moderates and reformists are reported to have celebrated Raisi’s death, although discreetly, and members of the Iranian diaspora took to social media to express dissatisfaction with the Iranian regime.


Well wishes and offers of support were sent from leaders of numerous countries, including Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as from the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the foreign ministries of Afghanistan, Jordan, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Islamist militant organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis also sent their condolences.


Western leaders, however, exhibited hesitance to send condolences. The Lithuanian Foreign Minister and the British Minister of State cited Iran’s role in destabilizing the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni stated that she hoped future Iranian leadership would commit to the stabilization and pacification of the region. John Kirby, White House National Security Communications Advisor, said that Raisi was “a man who had a lot of blood on his hands.” Nevertheless, the Biden Administration released a statement expressing their condolences. This was, as expected, faced with fierce criticism from many members of Congress.


The question now is: who will take over as President of Iran? Mohammad Mokhber is currently the Acting President and Iranian law states that new elections must be held within 50 days. An early election has been set for June 28, and candidates have already begun throwing their hats in the ring. Potential successors include Saeed Jalili, who represents the Supreme Leader on the National Security Council, Minister of Roads and Development Mehrdad Bazrpash, Ali Larijani, who has held a number of high-ranking positions in the Iranian government such as Culture Minister and Speaker of Parliament. Additionally, Parviz Fattah, who previously served in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and is currently the head of the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, is also campaigning for the presidency.


Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has stated that “The mullahs are part of the past in Iran, not its future. But change in Iran will come through engagement, not confrontation.” In the present situation, not much is likely to change following Raisi’s death as the Supreme Leader is responsible for setting nearly all domestic and foreign policy.


The Iranian establishment is run by hardline conservatives as reformists are currently out of the picture. It is these conservatives who have notoriously refused to compromise in the wake of anti-government protests. Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has only grown stronger after the shunning of reformists and moderates from the political scene. Many government appointments since 2021 have involved IRGC personnel, and a new president is unlikely to change that trend.


Regarding foreign policy, the President of Iran has limited power in this realm. The Iranian National Security Council, the IRGC and the Supreme Leader set the country’s foreign policy agenda. Iran’s political establishment currently has a fairly unified view of the country’s international policies. As such, Iranian foreign policy will likely remain unchanged.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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