The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reshapes the succession and focuses attention on the supreme leader’s son, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The death of the Iranian president reshapes the succession and focuses attention on the supreme leader's son

In recent years power in the Islamic Republic has become increasingly concentrated.


The death in a helicopter crash of President Ebrahim Raisi, considered a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has reshuffled the cards in the succession process and increased attention on the son of Iran’s number one, Mojtaba, as contender.

While analysts emphasize that it is impossible to know with certainty the intentions of Iran’s leaders, Raisi’s record as a pillar of the Islamic republic for several decades made him an inevitable candidate to become its third supreme leader after Khamenei and the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The supreme leader serves for life after being appointed by the Assembly of Experts body and has the final say on all key matters, including foreign policy. Khamenei, 85, has held the position since Khomeini’s death in 1989.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, director of the Berlin-based think tank Center for the Middle East and Global Order, said it was “very difficult to say” whether Raisi was seen as a successor, but noted that Khamenei had “catapulted his former confidant to important positions”. “.

Among them were the heads of the judiciary and the presidency, indicating “a desire to give him the kind of profile that would facilitate his rise to supreme leadership,” he told AFP.

“In Iran’s opaque political environment, only a few at the top know how likely Raisi was to become the next supreme leader,” analysts Ali Vaez and Naysan Rafati of the International Crisis Group added in a study.

“But if he did get the job, his death raises a big question about the succession.”

– ‘Rearranged cards’ –

Besides Raisi, the other widely picked contender was Khamenei’s son Mojtaba, 54, a shadowy figure rarely seen in public but hugely influential behind the scenes and sanctioned by the United States.

“Khamenei has long wanted to position his son Mojtaba as his successor,” Fathollah-Nejad said, describing Mojtaba Khamenei as “a central player in the shadows.”

He stressed that even within the Iranian leadership there were concerns about “dynastic rule,” given that it was so vehemently rejected by the Islamic revolutionaries who overthrew the last shah.

“Now, however, with the disappearance of Raisi, the cards regarding Khamenei’s succession are being reshuffled. As a result, the focus now returns to Mojtaba,” he said.

Maintaining a low public profile, rarely mentioned in media reports and without any official title, Mojtaba Khamenei is believed by observers to be second-in-command in the supreme leader’s office behind former senior guardian Mohammad Golpayegani.

One of the few official revelations about his importance came in November 2019, when the US Treasury announced sanctions against Mojtaba Khamenei, saying that Ali Khamenei had “delegated a portion of his leadership responsibilities” to his son.

Raisi’s death “will reshape the succession process ahead,” said Suzanne Maloney, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, adding that Raisi had become “one of the leading candidates” to succeed him in recent years. to Khamenei.

Maloney said Mojtaba Khamenei was “the most prominent contender” besides Raisi and a figure who has wielded “considerable power behind the scenes.” But there were also questions about his religious credentials and his hereditary rule, he added.

Analysts do not exclude that another name could emerge as a possible supreme leader, with some attention focusing on Ali Reza Arafi, a cleric who is a member of both the Assembly of Experts and the supervisory body of the Guardian Council.

– “Renewed popular protests” –

Ensuring stability and continuity will be the leadership’s number one priority, especially after the 2022 national protests that exposed popular frustrations among young people over social restrictions in the Islamic Republic, particularly for women.

In recent years, power in the Islamic republic has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of conservatives, a trend confirmed by this year’s parliamentary elections, which saw the lowest turnout ever recorded in a legislative election in Iran.

While the president’s powers are limited, Raisi’s death came as a shock: He is only the second president of Iran to die in office after Mohammad Ali Rajai, who was killed in a bomb attack in 1981 after less than a month. in office.

Fathollah-Nejad said that following the 2022 protests and a deepening economic crisis in the face of Western sanctions, the transition of power to a new supreme leader would represent a period of risk for the authorities.

“If Khamenei dies and/or if Mojtaba is declared his successor, it would not be unlikely that popular protests against the regime would resume,” he said.

“The big question is whether in a scenario of a power vacuum or a contested succession decision, we would see cracks within the power and security apparatus that could open the window to unexpected events,” he added.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated channel.)