President Ebrahim Raisi’s dying offers blow to Iranian regime

Unlock the Editor’s Digest for freeRoula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favorite tales on this weekly e-newsletter.The dying of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash has dealt a shock blow to the Islamic regime and its supreme chief, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.It was not that Raisi was a standout president pursuing radical insurance policies that will reshape the republic’s future. Certainly, historical past will little doubt decide that his transient time period had much less influence than these of predecessors equivalent to Mohammad Khatami, who pursued a extra reformist agenda, or Hassan Rouhani, the centrist who was a key architect and advocate of the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran signed with world powers.However from the second Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding Rouhani, he was thought-about integral to Khamenei’s plans to cement the affect of regime hardliners and guarantee a clean succession to the republic’s high put up when the 85-year-old supreme chief finally dies. It’s the theme that has dominated Iranian politics in the course of the previous decade, and can proceed to take action.Raisi’s success on the poll field was rigorously — and conspicuously — choreographed with main conservative and reformist candidates barred from operating. The 63-year-old hardline cleric was broadly thought-about to be a protégé of Khamenei’s, and a frontrunner to succeed him when the time got here.This yr’s public vote for members of the Meeting of Specialists, the physique that can choose the supreme chief and of which Raisi was a component since 2006, was equally choreographed. Rouhani was amongst these prevented from operating, permitting a brand new era of ideological hardliners to return to the fore. Khamenei, it appeared, was getting his home so as.The jury was nonetheless out on whether or not Raisi, whose presidency was deeply unpopular amongst many Iranians and marred by financial malaise as inflation soared and the rial depreciated, would even have succeeded Khamenei. The supreme chief’s son, Mojtaba, is the opposite standout candidate. However as president, he was unwaveringly loyal to his boss and helped to current a united entrance amongst conservatives, avoiding the inner clashes that blighted earlier presidencies.Raisi had been anticipated to run for a second time period in elections subsequent yr. Underneath the structure, a vote now needs to be held inside 50 days. Meaning Khamenei and different key energy centres must urgently start making ready for the following election, posing a recent problem for a system at a fragile interval in its historical past.Raisi’s dying won’t have any marked influence on key home and overseas policy selections, that are in the end decided by Khamenei. However the republic can be loath to point out any indicators of weak point or political instability after waves of anti-regime protests and through a interval of heightened tensions with the west and Israel, fuelled by the seven-month Israel-Hamas conflict.Many Iranians may be anticipated to vent their anger by merely not voting. In 2021, turnout fell beneath 50 per cent for the primary time in a presidential ballot for the reason that 1979 Islamic revolution. This yr’s parliamentary vote produced one other record-low turnout, below 41 per cent.Each have been embarrassing for the republic, which has sought to venture common legitimacy via voter participation since its founding. However the course of additionally indicated that Khamenei and different hardliners have been prepared to sacrifice the veneer of democratic credibility to safe the successor they needed and be certain that hardliners remained totally in control.That pattern may be anticipated to proceed, with little hope for the tens of millions of disillusioned Iranians that any quarter can be given to reformists or that the regime will ease up on its hardline insurance policies.It’s prone to be an analogous story on the overseas coverage entrance, the place Khamenei has balanced belligerence in the direction of the west and Israel with a calibrated, if dangerous, response to the regional hostilities triggered by the Israel-Hamas conflict, with the intention of conserving battle removed from the republic’s shores.RecommendedTehran has brazenly supported the militant teams it backs within the so-called Axis of Resistance — together with Lebanon’s Hizbollah, Iraqi and Syrian militias, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hamas — as they’ve mounted assaults in opposition to Israeli and US forces within the area. Nevertheless it has repeatedly insisted that they’re appearing independently and that Tehran doesn’t need a full-blown regional conflict or direct battle with the US.Khamenei gambled by authorising the primary direct missile and drone strike on Israel from Iranian soil in April in retaliation for an Israeli assault on the Iranian consulate in Damascus that killed senior members of the Revolutionary Guards. Israel responded by launching a missile and drone strike on an air base close to the Iranian metropolis of Isfahan. However the calibrated tit-for-tat exchanges brought about restricted harm, and the foes indicated that they didn’t need to escalate.In the end, Khamenei’s prime goal, be it via home or overseas coverage, is to make sure the republic’s survival. He has misplaced a trusted lieutenant in Raisi, however the president’s dying is unlikely to divert Khamenei or the regime astray, with the supreme chief bent on safeguarding his legacy and the ability of loyalist hardliners.

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