Ebrahim Raisi, The Hard-Line Iranian President Tipped As Next Supreme Leader – Analysis


By Kian Sharifi

Ebrahim Raisi, the ultraconservative Iranian president, is widely tipped to become the country’s next supreme leader.

Raisi, a longtime protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a former judicial chief who also allegedly played a role in one of the darkest chapters of the Islamic republic.

On May 19, a helicopter carrying Raisi crashed in Iran’s mountainous northwest on its way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan. His fate was not immediately clear.

As president, the hard-line cleric has overseen the brutal suppression of the unprecedented monthslong antiestablishment protests that erupted in 2022 and the tightening of the country’s morality laws.

Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested as government forces crushed the demonstrations, one of the biggest challenges to the country’s clerical rulers in decades. Raisi defended the bloody crackdown and accused foreign powers and opposition groups of instigating the unrest.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said Raisi’s presidency has been marked by growing social and political ruptures and deteriorating relations with the West. “His tenure reflects the broader trend of increasingly insulated policymaking at the top of the Iranian system as it consolidates ultraconservative control,” he said.

‘Butcher Of Tehran’

Raisi attended seminary schools in the holy Shi’ite cities of Qom and Mashhad, where he was born in 1960. He later studied theology and Islamic jurisprudence under the guidance of Khamenei and other powerful clerics.

Raisi has been referred to by critics of the Islamic republic as the “Butcher of Tehran” for his alleged role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 when he was Tehran’s deputy prosecutor.

In 1989, the year Khamenei became supreme leader, Raisi was named the Iranian capital’s top prosecutor. He remained in the role until 1994, when he was tasked with heading the State Inspectorate Organization, a judicial body, a post he held for 10 years.

Powerful judiciary chief Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi appointed Raisi as his deputy in 2004. After a decade in the role, Raisi was named as Iran’s prosecutor general in 2014. Two years later, Khamenei appointed Raisi as custodian of a shrine in Mashhad and one of Iran’s wealthiest foundations.

In the 2017 presidential election, Raisi launched an unsuccessful bid against incumbent moderate President Hassan Rohani. He secured 38 percent of the votes.

Two years later, Khamenei appointed Raisi as Iran’s judiciary chief. That same year, the United States sanctioned Raisi and eight others deemed to be in Khamenei’s inner circle.

‘Impunity Reigns Supreme’

Raisi succeeded in his second bid for the presidency in 2021 in an election that was widely seen as a one-horse race. Scores of moderate and pro-reformist candidates were barred from running. The vote witnessed the lowest-ever turnout for a presidential election since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, said after Raisi’s electoral victory.

Raisi’s election consolidated the authority of the country’s hard-liners, which dominate all three branches of power in Iran.

Under Raisi’s administration, Iran has deepened relations with China and Russia and ramped up its confrontation with the West and Israel, the country’s archfoe.

In elections held in March, Raisi defended his seat on the Assembly of Experts, a body that picks the country’s supreme leader.


RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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