Who is Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s next president?
Raisi is referred to as a likely successor to the 82-year-old Khamenei when he passes away.
Before the 1979 revolution
Growing up in a clerical family, Raisi received a religious education and began attending the seminary in Qom when he was 15. There, he studied under several prominent scholars, including Khamenei.
When his education came up during the presidential debates, he denied that he has only six grades of classical education, saying he holds a PhD in law in addition to his seminary education.
When he entered the influential seminary in Qom just years before the 1979 revolution that brought about the Islamic Republic, many Iranians were dissatisfied with the governance of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was ultimately deposed.
Raisi was purportedly a participant in some of the events that forced the shah into exile and set up the new clerical establishment under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
A crucial development came when he moved to Iran’s capital, Tehran, in 1985 after being appointed deputy prosecutor.
Human rights organisations say three years later, just months after the gruelling eight-year Iran-Iraq War ended, he was part of a so-called “death commission” that oversaw the disappearing and secret executions of thousands of political prisoners.
Raisi will become the first Iranian president to have been targeted by United States sanctions, imposed in 2019, over his alleged role in the mass executions and for cracking down on public protests.
Amnesty International has called for the leader to face charges of crimes against humanity.
The leader continued to rise within Iran’s judicial system following Khamenei’s accession to the supreme leadership in 1989. He later held roles as prosecutor of Tehran, then headed the General Inspection Organization, and then served as deputy chief justice for a decade until 2014, during which time the pro-democracy Green Movement protests of 2009 took place.
In 2006, while serving as deputy chief justice, he was for the first time elected from South Khorasan to the Assembly of Experts, a body that is tasked with choosing a replacement for the supreme leader in the event of his death. He still holds that role.
Raisi was promoted to attorney general of Iran in 2014 and remained in that position until 2016, when he climbed the ladder yet again – albeit outside the judicial system this time – and was appointed by the supreme leader as the custodian of the Astan-e Quds Razavi, a huge bonyad, or charitable trust, that manages the shrine of Imam Reza and all affiliated organisations.
In that position, Raisi commanded billions of dollars’ worth of assets and made ties with the religious and business elite of Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.
Raisi and his ally Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who in 2020 became the speaker of a new hardline parliament amid low turnout and wide disqualification of reformist candidates, lost the election to Rouhani. Raisi did, however, garner just less than 16 million votes or 38 percent in an election with a 73 percent turnout.
After a short retreat, the supreme leader in 2019 appointed him as the chief justice.
In that position, the leader tried to cement his image as a staunch opponent of corruption. He held public trials and prosecuted figures close to the government and the judiciary.
He also effectively kickstarted his presidential campaign and travelled to almost all of Iran’s 32 provinces. In those visits, he would often announce he had brought a big factory back from the brink of bankruptcy, portraying himself as a champion of hard-working Iranians and boosting local businesses under US sanctions.
Raisi carried that theme into his 2021 campaign, in which he made limited promises as it was evident none of the other candidates could mount a serious challenge to his presidency amid a bad economic situation, low turnout and wide disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates.
During his time at the judiciary, messaging app Signal was banned earlier this year after a surge in popularity, as was the voice chat app Clubhouse when it became massively popular in the run-up to the elections.
All major social media and messaging apps are blocked in Iran, with the exception of Instagram and WhatsApp.