Analysis: Raisi's death will "shake" the plans for his successor

Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran speaks at the 77th General Assembly of the United Nations at UN Headquarters NY: 77th UN General Assembly 2nd day, New York, United States - 21 Sep 2022, Image: 724974190, License: Rights- managed, Restrictions: , Model Release: no, Credit line: Lev Radin/Pacific Press / Shutterstock Editorial / Profimedia

After the deadly helicopter crash, Ayatollah Khamenei is running out of time to manage the future of the Islamic Republic.

This incident represents a pivotal moment in Iran's political drama and prompts reflections on the potential consequences and changes that may follow the president's unexpected death.

Despite the importance of his role, Raisi's death is unlikely to cause serious disruptions in Iran's administrative and executive apparatus.

While the presidential office is a critical component of Iran's power structure, real control, particularly over the bureaucracy and major national issues, rests largely with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

As Iran's highest authority under the constitution, the supreme leader wields considerable influence.

He not only sets the national agenda and oversees the judiciary and the armed forces, but also ensures that candidates for executive positions, especially in key ministries such as intelligence, interior, defense and foreign affairs, are first vetted by his office. .

This centralization of power in the hands of the Supreme Leader ensures that Iran's administrative machinery remains stable and operational, even in the absence of its president.

President Raisi's background as a seasoned bureaucrat suggests that his absence may not critically affect administrative continuity. In fact, in Raisi's cabinet, the chief bureaucrat was his vice president, Mohammad Mokber.

Unlike Raisi, who was deeply entrenched in judicial and security roles, Mokber embodies the typical bureaucrat with extensive administrative expertise.

Mockber previously headed a huge "charitable" foundation known as Carrying Out the Order of Imam Khomeini – also called Setad.

As a result, he was instrumental in managing a significant portion of Iran's domestic economy. Setad, with a net worth of nearly $100 billion, stands alongside the executive branch and the IRGC as one of the key pillars of Iran's economy.

With such a background, Mokber is well-prepared to temporarily take over presidential duties and ensure government stability, using his bureaucratic acumen where Raisi's expertise was more judicial and security-focused.

In this context, it can be safely argued that the immediate consequences of President Raisi's death are not critically destabilizing.

However, the long-term implications for Iran's political future are quite significant. As Khamenei's protégé and one of his former students, President Raisi was widely seen as a potential key figure in the post-Khamenei era, and perhaps even as the next supreme leader.

His sudden death removes a critical thread from the complex tapestry of Iran's future leadership dynamics, potentially altering the course of succession and the balance of power in Iran's political hierarchy.

To fully appreciate the impact of Raisi's death on Iran's political landscape, it is essential to consider the trajectory of his rise to power.

Since 2014, the Islamic Republic of Iran has strategically elevated Ebrahim Raisi from a relatively obscure judicial position to one of the country's highest offices.

This transformation began with his appointment as Attorney General in 2014, a role that increased his visibility.

Later, in 2016, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Raisi to oversee the Imam Reza Shrine and Foundation, which not only manages Iran's only Shia imam shrine, but also oversees a conglomerate of businesses and endowments.

This role further cemented his status in both the political and religious spheres.

His rise continued with his entry into the Expediency Determination Council, and by 2019, he had risen to the position of Chief Justice of Iran, culminating in his election as president in 2021.

This decades-long grooming process underscores the regime's calculated effort to prepare Raisi for a key role in the post-Ayatollah Khamenei era. The precise positioning of Raisi's regime suggests that he was either a leading candidate to succeed Khamenei or a trusted figure ready to ensure a smooth transition of power to the designated successor.

The succession process is led by the Assembly of Management Experts in secret.

With the removal of Ebrahim Raisi from the political scene, the Islamic Republic faces a significant crisis, exacerbated by the rejection of other potential conservative leaders who might ensure a smooth transition of power.

During the process that elevated Raisi, influential figures such as Ali Larijani, a former speaker of parliament, his brother, Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, a former chief justice, and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the current president, were marginalized.

This included the disqualification of Ali Larijani from the 2021 presidential race, the resignation of Amoli Larijani from the Guardian Council, and subjecting Ghalibaf to relentless criticism from the conservative media, who accused him of incompetence and corruption.

This orchestrated reduction of viable conservative leaders created a vacuum after Raisi's unexpected death.

The Islamic Republic now faces the daunting task of identifying a new guarantor of the leadership transition, a role crucial to maintaining stability and continuity.

This situation could lead to increased uncertainty in the political hierarchy as the search for a consensus candidate becomes more urgent.

As the Islamic Republic struggles to find a new guarantor for its leadership transition, there are still notable figures who could potentially fill this role.

One such individual is Ali Reza Arafi, a member of both the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council and former president of Al-Mustafa International University, a key clerical institution for international students.

Arafi was once considered a likely candidate for the leadership, but his prospects have dimmed with the rise of Raisi.

With Raisi's unexpected departure, the spotlight could shift back to Arafi or similar figures, rekindling their chances in the evolving political landscape.

However, the challenge remains significant. The republic must launch a comprehensive promotional campaign similar to the one that boosted Raisi, a task made more complicated by Ayatollah Khamenei's age, who is eighty-five.

Time may not be on Khamenei's side to orchestrate another extensive process of grooming a successor, posing a critical strategic dilemma for regime continuity plans.

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