Who will benefit from the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi?

2024-05-20 12:44:47Kosova&Bota SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA VOX

Accidents happen everywhere, but not all accidents are created equal.

Hours after initial news broke of an "incident" involving a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, various state media published conflicting reports of his death. But now it has been confirmed that he died.

Iran does not seem like a country where presidents die by accident. But it is also a plane crash site, due to the poor state of infrastructure in the internationally isolated Islamic Republic.

In previous years, at least two cabinet ministers and two top military commanders have died in similar accidents. Raisi's helicopter, which was also carrying Iran's foreign minister and two senior regional officials, was passing through a notoriously foggy and mountainous area in northwestern Iran. The "incident" may well have been an accident.

However, doubts will inevitably surround the clash. After all, air incidents that killed senior political officials in Northern Rhodesia (1961), China (1971), Pakistan (1988) and Poland (2010) are still often the subject of speculation. In this case, as in others, one question is likely to fuel speculation: Who will benefit politically from Rais's death? Even if the answer to this question does not definitively tell us why the helicopter went down, it may shed some light on what comes next for the Islamic Republic.

Raisi ascended to the presidency in 2021 in what appeared to be the least competitive election Iran had held since 1997. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ensured that all other serious candidates were barred from running. Among those disqualified were not only reformists, but also centrist conservatives, and even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former hardline president whom Khamenei saw as a rival.

Raisi seemed to have been chosen precisely because he could never be a serious rival to Khamenei. In 2017, he proved to be completely uncharismatic in the electoral debates against then-president Hassan Rouhani. His time in office from 2021 also speaks not only to his utter incompetence, but also to his lack of politics. Some call him the invisible president. During the Women, Life, Freedom movement that shook Iran from 2022 to 2023, few protesters bothered to shout anti-Raisi slogans because they knew the real power lay elsewhere.

For Khamenei, what mattered was that Raisi could toe the regime's line. Although the competition is close, Raisi may have more blood on his hands than any other living official of the Islamic Republic.

Since the 1980s, the Islamic Republic has executed thousands of Iranian dissidents. The judiciary is the arm of government that performs this murderous function, and Raisi has held leadership positions from the beginning; he rose to become head of the judiciary in 2019.

The same qualities that likely made Raisi seem like the regime's safe choice for the presidency also made him a leading contender to succeed Khamenei as Supreme Leader. According to the Iranian constitution, only a cleric with serious political experience can become the head of state.

By now, many clerics who fit that description have died or been politically marginalized (many of whom did not share Khamenei's hardline politics), leaving the field open for Rais. On the other hand, many political observers expected Raisi to be a weak supreme leader, allowing real power to flow elsewhere—for example, to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or other centers of power. around or helping the regime.

Who is better for such a position?

Raisi belongs to a very special section of Iran's political elite, and in recent years, others in the political class have worried about the ambitions of those around him. A native of the holy city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, Raisi previously held the custodianship of the holy shrine in the city, which is also an economic empire in its own right. He is married to the daughter of the Friday prayer leader in Mashhad, a social conservative.

Raisi's wife, Jamileh Alamolhoda, has played an extremely public role, leading some conservatives outside the couple's regional circle to worry that after Khamenei's eventual death, a "Mashhad clique" could come to power the regime.

Raisi's apparent passivity has also emboldened challengers among a particularly virulent group of extremists, who saw his weak presidency as an opportunity to raise their political profiles at the expense of more staunch conservatives, such as parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer. Qalibaf. Some of these hard-liners did well in parliamentary elections earlier this year, which were largely a contest within the hard-line camp. They waged a heated campaign against Kalibaf, who commanded the support of the main conservative pro-regime political parties and many organs of the IRGC.

For all these reasons, the death of Rais would change the balance of power between the factions within the Islamic Republic. According to the Iranian constitution, his vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would assume the duties of the presidency, and a council consisting of Mokhber, Qalibaf and Chief Justice Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i would have to organize new elections within 50 days.

When I asked an official close to Qalibaf about the political consequences of the overthrow, he immediately answered: "Dr. Kalibaf will be the new president".

He sure would like to be. Kalibaf's ambition is not news to anyone; he has run for president several times, starting in 2005. More technocrat than ideologue, Kalibaf was a commander in the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War and likely has at least some support from within its ranks. His long tenure as mayor of Tehran (2005–2017) was characterized by a degree of incompetence and considerable corruption. His political enemies have recently highlighted corruption cases linked to him and his family. An official close to former President Rouhani tells me: “Kalibaf's problem is that he wants it too much. Everyone knows he has zero principles and will do anything for power.”

If Kalibaf registers to run in a hastily arranged presidential election, the Guard Council may find it difficult to reject him, given his deep ties to Iran's power structures. But would Khamenei be happy with the presidency passing to a technocrat without proper Islamic credentials? Who else will be allowed to run and can they defeat Qalibafi at the polls, as Ahmadinejad and Rouhani did in 2005 and 2013 respectively?

What twists the plot is the fact that some regime officials and former officials who support Qalibaf are also advocating for Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, to succeed his father as supreme leader. Mojtaba Khamenei has long been in the shadows and little is known about the 54-year-old's politics or views, but he is widely regarded as a serious contender for the post.

 Could there be a bargain between Mojtaba and Kalibaf that paves the way to power for both?

When the founding leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, died in 1989, Khamenei replaced him after making an unwritten pact with his cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who then assumed the presidency. The constitution was quickly amended to give more powers to the president. Rafsanjani would come to regret the pact as he was politically sidelined by Khamenei before he died in what many in Iran consider a suspicious death in 2017.

Could this cautionary tale make both sides wary?

Many have predicted a vicious power struggle in Iran, but most expected it to follow Khamenei's death.

Now we are likely to see at least one dress rehearsal in which different factions will shake their strength. As for the people of Iran, some have already started celebrating Raisi's death with fireworks in Tehran.

Most Iranians hardly feel represented by any faction of the Islamic Republic, and some may use a moment of political crisis to reignite the street protests that have repeatedly surrounded the regime in the past. The country's civil movements are exhausted after years of war (more than 500 people were killed in the most recent round of protests, from 2022 to 2023). However, whatever form the struggle for power at the top takes, the people of Iran will not take it passively for long . Source: The Atlantic/Adaptasi Gazeta Si