Iran’s new president takes office Thursday amid a cacophony of demands from his countrymen: some for water, others for better salaries and all for COVID-19 vaccines. But even if Ebrahim Raisi hears these pleas, he will not heed them.

Throughout his long climb up the ranks of the Islamic Republic, Raisi has only ever listened to one voice — that of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This won’t change with his elevation to the presidency, the latest of a long string of promotions the hard-line cleric has received by the courtesy of his master.

Raisi only won the presidency, in his second attempt, because Khamenei fixed the contest in his favor.

Even by Iranian standards, this was a transparent manipulation of the election process, and voters demonstrated their dissatisfaction by boycotting the charade. For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, the turnout dipped below 50%.

This leaves Raisi with little political legitimacy of his own, and therefore even more beholden to Khamenei. That has ever been the nature of the relationship between the two cleric-politicians, and the leitmotif of Raisi’s career over four decades.

It was during Khamenei’s own presidential turn that Raisi was plucked out of obscurity as a young cleric and appointed a prosecutor. In 1988, he was part of a four-man death panel that ordered the execution of tens of thousands of political prisoners. The following year, Khamenei was elevated to Supreme Leader. He continued to give occasional religious lectures and Raisi became one of his students.

It is widely assumed in Iran that Raisi is Khamenei’s heir-apparent, and that the presidency is merely a springboard to supreme leadership.

There is no doubt that the two men share a political worldview. Like Khamenei, Raisi is an arch-conservative, set foursquare against any meaningful reform in the Islamic Republic. They are both paranoid about the intentions of the wider world, and especially of the U.S. The new president’s hostility toward the West will likely be amplified as his ascension will bring more scrutiny of his role in the executions of the late ‘80s.

Raisi subscribes to Khamenei’s notion of a “resistance economy,” believing self-sufficiency is the best protection against the predatory West. Like Khamenei, Raisi wants the U.S. to ease economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration — because this would give his government access to frozen assets and to foreign markets for Iranian oil and gas. But, unlike outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he has no enthusiasm for foreign investment, much less for multinational corporations setting up shop in Iran.

As well as sharing Khamenei’s knee-jerk suspicion of foreigners, Raisi has no tolerance for Iranians who want more for their country. In the 32 years he has been supreme leader, Khamenei has never once bowed to the demands of his subjects, whether for political freedom or economic opportunity. When he has felt pressured, he has responded by unleashing the security forces to kill or jail dissenters or demonstrators.

Raisi will be required to execute the repression that, in his previous roles, he enabled. Khamenei knows he can rely on the new president to hang on to his every word. Iranians, on the other hand, should expect a deaf ear.

Source » hawaiitribune-herald