Ebrahim Raisi

Ebrahim Raisi is the president of Iran.“Iran's new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi sworn in,” BBC News, August 5, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-58097195. He previously served as chief of Iran’s judiciary and deputy chair of the powerful Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for the succession of the supreme leader. Raisi is a religious and political hardliner whose devotion to the regime and close relationship with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei make him a potential successor to Khamenei. The United States sanctioned Raisi in 2019 after he was appointed to lead Iran’s judiciary, which is accused of torturing and abusing prisoners.“Treasury Designates Supreme Leader of Iran’s Inner Circle Responsible for Advancing Regime’s Domestic and Foreign Oppression,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 4, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm824; Alex Vatanka, “The Supreme Leader’s Apprentice Is Running for President,” Foreign Policy, April 12, 2017, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/12/irans-supreme-leader-has-picked-his-candidate-for-president/; Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “Hardline Iranian cleric consolidates leadership position,” Reuters, March 12, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-judiciary-raisi-newsmaker/hardline-iranian-cleric-consolidates-leadership-position-idUSKBN1QT1GO. Raisi won Iran’s June 2021 presidential election, which many observers said was designed to favor him.“Iran election: Hardliner Raisi will become president,” BBC News, June 20, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57537027.

As he seized control of Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini instituted a new Islamist agenda that has become known as Khomeinism. After the revolution, a teenage Raisi was allegedly one of 70 students selected to participate in courses on Khomeinist governance and policy. During these courses Raisi first met Khamenei, who was one of the instructors. Raisi went on to become a law clerk in Karaj.Alex Vatanka, “The Supreme Leader’s Apprentice Is Running for President,” Foreign Policy, April 12, 2017, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/12/irans-supreme-leader-has-picked-his-candidate-for-president/. At age 20, Raisi became the district attorney of Karaj. He later went on to serve as deputy prosecutor-general and then prosecutor-general of Tehran, which he served as until 1994.“Ebrahim Raeesi Was Officially Appointed as the Chief of Iran’s Judiciary,” Iran International, March 7, 2019, https://iranintl.com/en/iran/ebrahim-raeesi-was-officially-appointed-chief-iran%E2%80%99s-judiciary. Raisi’s tenure was marked by mass execution of political opponents. In the summer of 1988, for example, Raisi oversaw the execution of an estimated 5,000 political prisoners under Khomeini’s orders. Raisi reportedly drew the attention of Khomeini, who appointed him as a judge at Evin prison, Iran’s primary facility for political prisoners.Golnaz Esfandiari, “In Iran, Emerging Hard-Liner Stakes Future On Unseating Rohani,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 6, 2017, https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-presidential-election-candidate-hard-liner-ebrahim-raisi/28414689.html. Amnesty International has accused Raisi of being part of a “death committee,” a panel of four judges who oversaw secret death sentences of about 5,000 prisoners buried in mass graves that are “systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities.”“Iran election: Hardliner Raisi will become president,” BBC News, June 20, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57537027. After serving as Tehran’s prosecutor-general, Raisi spent 10 years as head of the General Inspection Office of Iran. His tenure became known for his hardline on corruption.“Ebrahim Raisi: Chief Justice of Iran,” United Against Nuclear Iran, accessed December 8, 2020, https://www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com/ebrahim-raisi-chief-justice-of-iran.

Raisi’s career continued to ascend under Khomeini’s successor, Khamenei. After beginning his legal career, Raisi married the daughter of regime hardliner Ayatollah Alam al-Hoda. Raisi leveraged the close relationship Hoda formed with Khamenei after the latter’s ascent to the role of supreme leader in 1989.Alex Vatanka, “The Supreme Leader’s Apprentice Is Running for President,” Foreign Policy, April 12, 2017, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/12/irans-supreme-leader-has-picked-his-candidate-for-president/. In 2004, Raisi assumed the role of first deputy chief justice of Iran’s judiciary.“Ebrahim Raeesi Was Officially Appointed as the Chief of Iran’s Judiciary,” Iran International, March 7, 2019, https://iranintl.com/en/iran/ebrahim-raeesi-was-officially-appointed-chief-iran%E2%80%99s-judiciary; “Ebrahim Raisi: Chief Justice of Iran,” United Against Nuclear Iran, accessed December 8, 2020, https://www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com/ebrahim-raisi-chief-justice-of-iran. In 2006, Raisi joined Iran’s Assembly of Experts. In 2013, Raisi became lead prosecutor for the Special Court of the Clergy, the office that punishes dissenting voices among Iran’s religious class.Alex Vatanka, “The Supreme Leader’s Apprentice Is Running for President,” Foreign Policy, April 12, 2017, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/12/irans-supreme-leader-has-picked-his-candidate-for-president/. In 2014, Raisi began a two-year term as Iran’s attorney general.“Ebrahim Raeesi Was Officially Appointed as the Chief of Iran’s Judiciary,” Iran International, March 7, 2019, https://iranintl.com/en/iran/ebrahim-raeesi-was-officially-appointed-chief-iran%E2%80%99s-judiciary; “Ebrahim Raisi: Chief Justice of Iran,” United Against Nuclear Iran, accessed December 8, 2020, https://www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com/ebrahim-raisi-chief-justice-of-iran. In 2016, Khamenei appointed Raisi the head of Astan Qods Razavi, which oversees a multibillion-dollar religious foundation that manages donations to the Iman Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad.Golnaz Esfandiari, “In Iran, Emerging Hard-Liner Stakes Future On Unseating Rohani,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 6, 2017, https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-presidential-election-candidate-hard-liner-ebrahim-raisi/28414689.html; Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “Hardline cleric Raisi to take on Rouhani in Iran’s presidential election,” Reuters, April 9, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-elections-raisi-idUSKBN17B0DZ. Raisi’s appointments fueled speculation that Khamenei favored him as the shrine is Iran’s holiest Shiite pilgrimage site and a steady source of revenue for the country.Alex Vatanka, “The Supreme Leader’s Apprentice Is Running for President,” Foreign Policy, April 12, 2017, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/12/irans-supreme-leader-has-picked-his-candidate-for-president/.

Raisi sought to capitalize on his favor in the regime by challenging the more moderate President Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s May 2017 elections. Raisi blamed Rouhani’s nuclear negotiations with the West for weakening Iran’s global and domestic standings. In particular, Raisi attacked Rouhani on his economic policy and claimed Iran continued to underperform even after negotiating a deal with Western powers to lift economic sanctions in exchange for limiting the country’s nuclear development.Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “Hardline cleric Raisi to take on Rouhani in Iran’s presidential election,” Reuters, April 9, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-elections-raisi-idUSKBN17B0DZ. Rouhani won re-election with more than 23 million votes to Raisi’s 15.8 million.Emma Graham-Harrison and Saeed Kamali Dehghan, “Iran: Hassan Rouhani wins landslide in huge victory for reformists,” Guardian (London), May 20, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/20/iran-hassan-rouhani-set-for-landslide-in-huge-victory-for-reformists. The loss did not dimmish Raisi’s standing with Khamenei, however. On March 7, 2019, Khamenei appointed Raisi head of Iran’s judiciary, replacing Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani. The appointment lasts for a period of five years. Less than a week later, Raisi was elected deputy chief of the Assembly of Experts.Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “Hardline Iranian cleric consolidates leadership position,” Reuters, March 12, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-judiciary-raisi-newsmaker/hardline-iranian-cleric-consolidates-leadership-position-idUSKBN1QT1GO; “Ebrahim Raeesi Was Officially Appointed as the Chief of Iran’s Judiciary,” Iran International, March 7, 2019, https://iranintl.com/en/iran/ebrahim-raeesi-was-officially-appointed-chief-iran%E2%80%99s-judiciary.

Raisi’s appointments to the head of the judiciary and deputy chief of the Assembly of Experts demonstrate that he continues to remain in Khamenei’s favor. His sustained presence in the Iranian government and his perceived position as a Khamenei protégé have made him one of the top candidates speculated to succeed Khamenei, according to regional observers.

Raisi ran again for Iran’s presidency in June 2021, promising to fight corruption. Unlike in 2017, Raisi received the support of the regime. Other prominent candidates were barred from the election, leaving Raisi as the primary conservative in the race and the government favorite. Election observers posited the election was designed to favor Raisi. Raisi’s victory appeared assured as Iranians voted on June 18, 2021.“Iranians vote in election all but guaranteed to deliver an ultra-conservative president,” CNN, June 18, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/18/middleeast/iran-election-voting-intl/index.html. Raisi was declared the winner on June 19 after winning 62 percent of the vote. He promised to “form a hard-working, revolutionary and anti-corruption government.”“Iran election: Israel PM warns world of Ebrahim Raisi,” BBC News, June 19, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57541346; “Iran election: Hardliner Raisi will become president,” BBC News, June 20, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57537027. Pointing to Raisi’s connection to human rights abuses in Iranian prisons, Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard called his election “a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”“Iran election: Hardliner Raisi will become president,” BBC News, June 20, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57537027. Responding to Raisi’s election, newly installed Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Iran’s regime continued to seek the development of nuclear weapons.“Iran election: Israel PM warns world of Ebrahim Raisi,” BBC News, June 19, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57541346. On June 21, Raisi called for the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which former U.S. President Donald Trump left in 2018. At the same time, Raisi said he would not meet with President Joe Biden even if the United States returned to the agreement.Tamara Qiblawi, Frederik Pleitgen, Claudia Otto, Ramin Mostaghim, and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Iran's hardline president-elect Ebrahim Raisi says he will not meet with Biden,” CNN, June 21, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/21/middleeast/ebrahim-raisi-iran-president-news-conference-intl/index.html.

On August 3, 2021, Khamenei officially endorsed Raisi as Iran’s next president during a ceremony in Tehran. Raisi pledged to continue international nuclear talks while also promising to take steps to lift the “tyrannical” U.S. sanctions on Iran.Parisa Hafezi, “Incoming president says Iran will seek end to 'tyrannical' US sanctions,” Reuters, August 3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/irans-new-president-raisi-says-he-will-take-steps-lift-us-sanctions-2021-08-03/. Raisi was sworn in as president on August 5.“Iran's new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi sworn in,” BBC News, August 5, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-58097195. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah attended the inauguration.Aaron Boxerman, “Hamas, Islamic Jihad leaders arrive in Tehran for Iran president’s inauguration,” Times of Israel, August 5, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/hamas-islamic-jihad-leaders-arrive-in-tehran-for-iran-presidents-inauguration/. After he was sworn in, Raisi called for the lifting of all “illegal US sanctions against the Iranian nation” while voicing support for “any diplomatic plans” to lift sanctions.“Iran's new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi sworn in,” BBC News, August 5, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-58097195.

United States

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Ebrahim Raisi as a Specially Designated National on November 4, 2019.“Treasury Designates Supreme Leader of Iran’s Inner Circle Responsible for Advancing Regime’s Domestic and Foreign Oppression,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 4, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm824.

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