On Sunday, Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi named Mohammad Mokhber as his first vice president and Gholamhossein Esmaili as his chief of staff. It will be the first time since 1979 that Iran’s president, first vice president, and presidential chief of staff will all be entering office having been sanctioned by either the United States or the European Union. The new appointments are important as they set the tone for the new administration ahead of ministerial nominations.

Who is Mohammad Mokhber?

Born in Dezful, Mokhber has served as head of the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (also known as Setad) since 2007. This economic conglomerate is under the direct control of the Office of Iran’s Supreme Leader and its subsidiaries span the spectrum of important economic sectors including energy, telecommunications, and financial services. The U.S. Treasury Department, in its sanctioning of Setad, charged that it has “systematically violated the rights of dissidents by confiscating land and property from opponents of the regime, including political opponents, religious minorities, and exiled Iranians.” Along the way, Mokhber has also served in other key posts such as chairman of the board of directors of Sina Bank, deputy chief of commerce at the Mostazafan Foundation, and deputy governor of Khuzestan Province.

Mokhber’s appointment is noteworthy for a few reasons. The longevity of his tenure at the helm of Setad is a testament to his closeness to the Office of the Supreme Leader. Raisi himself was a former direct appointee of Iran’s Supreme Leader as chief justice. This signifies how closely linked the new government is to the Beit-e Rahbari.

The new first vice president is also unlike most of his predecessors. Since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ascended to the supreme leadership in 1989, most occupants of the office have served as ministers, vice presidents, or members of parliament ahead of assuming the first vice presidency. Hassan Habibi served as justice minister and culture minister ahead of his tenure from 1989-2001. Mohammad Reza Aref was minister of post and a head of the Management and Planning Organization before becoming first vice president in 2001. Parviz Davoodi was an economist and an economic deputy at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance before he took the top vice presidency. Mohammad Reza Rahimi was head of the Supreme Audit Court and a vice president for parliamentary affairs before Ahmadinejad named him as his last first vice president. The most recent occupant of the office, Eshaq Jahangiri, was a member of parliament, governor of Esfahan Province, and a minister of industries and mines before he was tapped by Rouhani to be his second-in-command.

But Mokhber is different: under Khamenei’s supreme leadership, he is the first occupant of the first vice presidency to assume the post immediately after having served as an Office of the Supreme Leader appointee. This again shows close connections between the Raisi presidency and the Khamenei supreme leadership. Additionally, given Khamenei’s tasking of Mokhber while at Setad to develop a “resistance economy,” it is likely this will be an important priority for the new administration.

Mokhber’s ascension also comes amid mounting protests in Khuzestan Province over water shortages and regime mismanagement. His ties to Khuzestan are thus an important nod to regime concerns over the unrest in the area.

Who is Gholamhossein Esmaili?

Esmaili hails from the judiciary, and thus a transition to the presidency represents a change for him. He previously served as the judiciary’s spokesman; director-general of the Justice Department in Tehran Province; and was the controversial head of the Prisons Organization of Iran. Then Chief Justice Sadegh Larijani removed Esmaili from his post in 2014 after outcry over a violent prison raid in Evin Prison, which injured around 30 inmates. Despite the evidence, as the New York Times wrote at the time, “Mr. Esmaili appeared smiling on state television repeating denials of the attack.” When the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Tehran Prisons Organization in 2017, it cited this incident at Evin Prison, and said “some of the prisoners were placed in solitary confinement afterward and did not receive medical treatment, despite their injuries.”

Esmaili is different from his immediate predecessors in the Rouhani administration. His promotion reflects Raisi being the first former chief justice to assume the presidency in the history of the Islamic Republic. Along with that status, comes Raisi employing his considerable judicial network in the executive branch.

Mokhber’s predecessor, Mahmoud Vaezi, was a former deputy foreign minister and cabinet minister. Rouhani’s first chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, was a deputy minister for planning at the Ministry of Commerce, lived in the United States while receiving a doctoral degree from The George Washington University, and was an economic advisor to Mohammad Khatami when he was president, among other posts. But Esmaili’s career trajectory is similar to that of the first chief of staff in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, Gholamhossein Elham, who served as a member of the Guardian Council and was at one point a spokesman of the judiciary himself before entering the government. This shows Raisi’s administration borrowing from an Ahmadinejad-era precedent.

In the end, Mokhber and Esmaili’s appointments reflect an emerging revolving door among the Office of the President, the Office of the Supreme Leader, and the judiciary. It will be important to see if this trend holds in the cabinet nominations to come—and especially how many Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members find their way into the new government as well.

Source » iranintl