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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

Written by Minahil Khalid 6:36 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Published Content

The Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and His Legacy (1960-2024)

The tragic death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash near the Azerbaijan border has shocked Iran. This article offers an overview of Raisi’s life and political career. Known for his hard-line policies, Raisi made both controversial domestic policy decisions and significant foreign policy moves. Notably, he was openly antagonistic towards Israel and its actions in Palestine, which garnered him substantial support both domestically and internationally.
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About the Author(s)
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Minahil Khalid is a student of M.Phil International Relations at Kinnaird College for Women University, Lahore. Her research interests revolve around global political issues and security studies.

Early Life of Ebrahim Raisi

Born on December 14, 1960, in Mashhad, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was raised in the Muslim clerical tradition. His father was a mid-ranking cleric who ensured that Raisi received a religious education from a young age. After completing just six years of primary school, he was sent to an Islamic seminary to begin his lifelong journey with Iran’s religious establishment.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi
2022 Ebrahim Raisi” by duma.gov.ru is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution, the overthrow of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, and the establishment of the Islamic Republic were seen as pivotal moments for the future Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi. He joined the revolutionary forces at 18 years old and sided with the fundamentalists of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who were to dominate the political and judicial systems in Iran. His initial enthusiasm and loyalty towards the revolutionary cause did not go unnoticed. In 1981, Raisi began his judicial career as a prosecutor in the Karaj and Hamadan provinces of Iran.

Ebrahim Raisi’s Rise to Prominence

The most significant chapter in the life of Raisi began in the late 1980s. Following the Iran-Iraq War, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a decree calling for the assassination of all the political prisoners who were members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK). Death panels were established in various cities of Iran to carry out these executions during the 1988 massacre and Raisi was allocated to one of the death panels in Tehran.

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Ebrahim Raisi
Ebrahim Raisi in the 1980s

The death panel included several individuals who had the authority to decide the fate of the prisoners after brief interrogations. The questions asked were based on the political and religious beliefs of the prisoners, which determine if they lived or died. During this time period, 5,000 executions took place but some sources say that they were up to 30,000. Raisi’s role in this massacre made him prominent and he became known as  “The Butcher of Tehran.” Various reports have described the 1988 Iranian massacre as the worst form of “violation of prisoners’ rights” since World War II.

Raisi was appointed as Tehran’s prosecutor from 1989 until 1994. He served as Iran’s first deputy chief justice from 2004 to 2014. After completing his tenure, he served as the attorney-general of Iran in 2014 and later resigned in 2016 to become the chairman of Astan Quds Razavi. He was the second person to resume this office since the year 1979. The major responsibility Raisi had at that time was to serve the pilgrims of the Imam Reza Shrine, particularly the poor.

The Iranian Presidential Elections of 2017 and 2021

Raisi was elected as the presidential candidate of the Popular Front of the Islamic Revolutionary Forces (JAMNA) in 2017. Ebrahim Raisi had the support of the Iranian Front of Islamic Revolution Stability but lost to his opponent, President Rouhani, by receiving only 38.28% of the votes. Upon his loss, Raisi requested the Guardian Council to investigate the “violations under the law” before and after the elections. However, in 2021, Raisi again ran for the presidential elections and won by 62% of the votes.

During his campaigning, he showcased himself as one who is against corruption within institutions and also showed support for the negotiation of an international nuclear pact revolving around Iranian interests. Many of his opponents had been disqualified weeks before the announcement of the election results and the voter turnout was slightly low, which led to Raisi winning by a huge margin.

Iran under Ebrahim Raisi’s Presidency

Raisi, an Iranian hard-liner, was more interested and concerned regarding regime security, rather than the economic outlook of Iran. He suffered a widespread crisis due to the international sanctions imposed on Iran and the coronavirus pandemic. The government increased its vaccination drive during Raisi’s presidency; however, no adequate measures were taken against the economic conditions amid the water crisis and high inflation. Raisi showed little enthusiasm towards renewing the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)” which could have eased the sanctions. The reason behind this was that the foreign policy under Raisi aimed to improve the relations of Iran with China and other neighbouring states before entering any agreements with the West.

Iran’s economy hit a downfall due to rising inflation and a lack of employment opportunities, creating resentment among the public. Due to the Russian-Ukraine War in February 2022, there was an increase in domestic market prices across the nation. Ebrahim Raisi introduced a program called “economic surgery” which aimed at cutting subsidies for food, further increasing prices overnight. The increasing austerity measures and the regime’s security added to the distress of the Iranians who were fed up by the element of negative peace in the society.

The Iranians came out to protest in May, and these protests got increasingly violent by September when a Kurdish woman named Mahsa Jina Amini died while being in police custody for “not wearing her hijab properly.” The protests arising due to this incident were mainly led by women, who represented the grievances associated with women and minorities in the nation. President Ebrahim Raisi blamed the West and other international actors for fueling unrest and chaos across Iranian soil.

Ebrahim Raisi’s Foreign Policy

President Ebrahim Raisi had asserted that the West no longer mattered to Iran and that the Iranian lobbyists in the West were kept at arm’s length. Raisi had placed an emphasis on an “Eastern policy,” which was successful as showcased by the Saudi-Iran rapprochement in 2023 with China as the mediator. Due to this, the Gulf states also paved the way for bringing Syria back to the Arab League. There was an increase in naval cooperation between Iran, China, and Russia. Iran also tried to expand ties with India and Central Asia.

Moreover, President Ebrahim Raisi may not have played a significant role in the policy of unifying the arenas, but it is evident that under his leadership, Iranian cooperation with the proxies around Israel increased. His efforts to negotiate with Saudi Arabia and to shift the Middle East towards China and Russia may have paved the way for the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. This can be said because various sources showcase that days before the Hamas attack on Israel, the foreign minister of Iran, Hossein Amirabdollahian, was consistently in touch with Hamas. Moreover, Al Jazeera reports that ever since Raisi came into power in 2021, he had been inclined to stand up for the Palestinian cause and declared it “a necessity”.  

Iran-Israel Relations 2023-2024

Under President Raisi, Iran emerged as one of the most active and significant voices against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which is due to the fact that the two Middle Eastern nations are usually described as archenemies. The resentment shown against Israel’s brutality is in line with Iran’s rigid anti-Israel foreign policy. Raisi’s policies against Israel grew controversial with the escalation of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Amid this rising discourse against Israel and Raisi’s notable visit to Saudi Arabia, groups and allies in Iran, along with Hezbollah from Lebanon and Houthi forces which are present in Yemen waged an attack on Israel. The Israeli forces attacked and killed the officers of IRGC’s Quds Force in Damascus in April 2024 to which Iran retaliated by firing missiles for the very first time in history in the Israeli airspace. A few days after this, Israel ambushed a military setup in Iran to which President Ebrahim Raisi did not respond because the Iranian intelligence claimed that the attacks had been obstructed.

The Death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

After the air strikes on Israel’s airspace, Raisi set out to restore ties with Iran’s neighboring countries. His three-day visit to Pakistan on April 22, 2024, resulted in an agreement between the two nations regarding increasing bilateral trade by up to $10 billion over the course of five years. After this visit, Raisi moved towards Sri Lanka to inaugurate the hydropower project constructed with technical and financial support from Iran.

On May 19, 2024, President Ebrahim Raisi, accompanied by Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and other Iranian officials, was returning from a visit to inaugurate new dams that were to be built in cooperation with Azerbaijan. On the way back, due to harsh climatic conditions, the helicopter went missing in the mountainous areas around the Iran-Azerbaijan border for, reportedly, 12 hours.

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi
“Ebrahim Raisi helicopter crash site 19 May 2024” by Mehr is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Footage from a Turkish drone had suggested that the helicopter was down in the mountains. A rescue team was sent to the location but no survivors were found. On May 20th, it was officially announced that President Raisi had been killed in the helicopter crash. One local government referred to it as a “crash” while others referred to it simply as an incident or “hard landing.” Primarily, it had been stated that this was due to the harsh climate; however, as time has passed, various speculations have depicted foul play. Iran’s army chief has been appointed for further investigation of this matter.

Following the death of those onboard the helicopter, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced 5 days of mourning for the Iranian people. Iran has also announced elections for June 28. However, until then, Vice President Mohammad Mokhber has taken over as the acting president while Ali Bagheri Kani has been appointed as the acting foreign minister.

The lack of evidence regarding the death of the late president of Iran has triggered many conspiracy theories, as he was the first president who confronted the West amid the Israel-Gaza war and stood up for the issue of Palestine. The news of his death still remains controversial and has fueled power competition within Iran, exacerbating political tensions. Some theorists continue to blame Israel for this unfortunate event while others blame the United States and even space lasers. There is a need for clarity in the arguments put forward by conspiracy theorists.


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