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Power struggle in Iran, Ebrahim Raisi set become the next Supreme Leader

Ebrahim Raisi, Raisi, Ali Khamenei, Butcher of Tehran, Tehran, Jomhouri Eslami

Opinion

Power struggle in Iran, Ebrahim Raisi set become the next Supreme Leader

While there is silent power crisis in Iran, its current president Ebrahim Raisi, who is known as the ‘butcher of Tehran’ remains a leading candidate for the most powerful post of Supreme Leader of the radical Islamic Shiite regime.

In August 2022, Ebrahim Raisi completed his first year as Iran’s president, while his ascent to the position raised speculation that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was actually grooming Raisi as his successor, despite the fact – one year into his administration, criticisms of Ebrahim Raisi are mounting and he appears disconnected from critical issue that consumed much of the time of his predecessors.

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At the time Ebrahim Raisi became president, many observers posited that he was Khamenei’s heir by virtue of his resume. He is the rare sitting official in the Islamic Republic to have commanded two branches of government in his career—first the judiciary and then the presidency—and his elevation would be reminiscent of Khamenei’s own path from the presidency to the supreme leadership. One year into his term, however, it is clear that Raisi’s mounting political baggage is becoming a liability.

Acute economic crisis and serious political trouble in Iran

During the first year in the office, Ebrahim Raisi’s presidency has already witnessed multiple troubles including an intra-conservative firing squad; unmet economic expectations; and ministerial drama. Even conservative elements in the Iranian political establishment, wherefrom Ebrahim Raisi hails have also criticized his performance during the first year. According to analysts, Raisi’s government is weak, while conservative politicians complain that he doe not understand basic economics and there have been rising tensions between Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and the president. Other Raisi critics like the editor of the Jomhouri Eslami newspaper has even called on Ebrahim Raisi to resign if he is unable to solve economic problems.

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Meanwhile, Raisi’s soaring promises—creating one million jobs per year, reducing inflation, and an 8 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate—seem wildly out of reach. The unemployment rate for Iranians aged eighteen to thirty-five was 16.6 percent in the first quarter of the current Iranian calendar year, representing a 1 percent year-on-year increase. Over the same period, for Iranians aged fifteen and over, the jobless rate was at 9.2 percent—which was a 0.4 percent year-on-year increase. Inflation has reached record highs. In the Iranian calendar month ending on June 21, the monthly inflation rate was 12.2 percent, with a point-to-point rate of 52.5 percent. The International Monetary Fund projects 3 and 2 percent real GDP growth rates in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Thus, his soaring rhetoric has not matched the dismal reality on the ground. Minister of Labor, Welfare, and Social Affairs Hojjatollah Abolmaleki had to resign in June to avoid a planned impeachment, and, as has been the case with his predecessors, parliament has been considering impeachment for multiple other cabinet ministers, including the minister of industry and the minister of economy.

According to media reports, acute poverty and economic crisis is pushing thousands of Iranian women into prostitution, while the strict sharia state also opens the door for legalized prostitution under the garb of mut’ah marriage or temporary marriage.

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Ebrahim Raisi, during his presidential debates in 2021 supported reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), suggesting that Iran needed a “powerful government” to do so. Since then he has committed himself to neutralizing and lifting sanctions, with a stronger focus on the former and deemphasizing the latter.

But the decision to re-enter the JCPOA is not something that can be decided by Raisi. Final authority to such major decision rests with Iran’s supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and, to date, he has now shown any interested in returning to the nuclear deal. Meaning, while Joe Biden and his administration is repeatedly talking about nuclear deal with Iran and been unfreezing billions of dollars, such attempts actually are absolutely useless, unless Ali Khamenei gives consent. Meaning, with unfrozen funds, Iran will only be getting opportunity of expediting its nuclear program, while Biden administration is bluffing Americans in particular with the false claim of “success” in nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

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Another important point should be mentioned here. Although Ebrahim Raisi is talking about reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he too is not doing anything real or substantive in this regard, as Raisi knows, such issues need green signal from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. For this reason, while his predecessor, former President Hassan Rouhani met with the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during his trips to Tehran, Raisi refrained from such steps. Instead, Raisi has relied on his vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organization, foreign minister, and his first vice president to handle these contacts.

Indeed, this dynamic extends to the European Union’s (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell as well. Rouhani met directly with Borrell’s predecessor, Federica Mogherini, but there was no public evidence of a Raisi meeting during Borrell’s last visit to Iran. Instead, the highest official Borrell met with was the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, who has taken on a more dominant public role in the negotiations to revive the nuclear deal than he had when he served in the same position during the Rouhani administration. When negotiations were in high gear in Vienna, Shamkhani tweeted that Iran’s nuclear negotiator was reporting to him on the talks.

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This is not to say that Raisi has not held regular meetings with foreign officials. He has regularly met with Russian president Vladimir Putin, for example. But he has been tactfully avoiding meeting Western leaders.

With such actions of Ebrahim Raisi on JCPOA and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s silence on the matter, it can be well assumed that Iran actually is not willing to reach into any agreement on nuclear issue or reviving JCPOA. The only reason some of the senior officials of Iran are meeting Western officials is part of Tehran’s strategy of playing the deception game and get its billions of frozen dollar accounts unfrozen.

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Now the key question as – shall Ebrahim Raisi finally succeed in stepping into the post of Iran’s Supreme Leader as Ali Khamenei’s successor? We need to remember, since 1989, no president under Khamenei has emerged from office unscathed. Each left the presidential office dissed, dismissed, and diminished, despite the fact of their loyalty to Ali Khamenei. Until now, Khamenei has not publicly voiced any dissatisfaction with Raisi. In fact, he has repeatedly praised Raisi, telling visiting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad “the president and administration of the Islamic Republic of Iran are also really vibrant”. This is likely a manifestation of Raisi taking pains to ensure no daylight between him and Khamenei, in contrast with some of his predecessors, suggesting that Raisi may have his eyes on the bigger prize of the supreme leadership despite the trendlines on his viability.

But, finally result may not go in favor of Ebrahim Raisi and there would be a dramatic shift in Ali Khamenei’s positive attitude towards Raisi. In my opinion, Iran’s next Supreme Leader is Mojtaba Khamenei, son of Ali Khamenei, and it is just a matter of time for Raisi to face the similar consequences of his predecessors. He would also be dissed, dismissed, and or diminished from the office soon.

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An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter Salah_Shoaib

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