Meet Rouhani’s Main Rival: Murderous Extremist

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You might remember that I told you that the conservatives seem to be unable to find someone to run against Rouhani. Well, today, 43 days before the actual election, we can finally meet the man who’s going to be the main rival of Rouhani in the presidential race: Ebrahim Raisi: the current custodian of Iran’s most important religious site, the shrine of Imam Reza, which is incidentally also Iran’s most powerful economic corporate holding, and the former Attorney General and Deputy Chief Justice in Iran’s judiciary.

So, how bad is he? Very, very, very, very bad.

First things first,  Ebrahim Raisi is a far-right extremist Islamist cleric who was on the death committee who murdered thousands of political prisoners in 1980s, and as an official in the judiciary, responsible for repression throughout his political life. Like, he wasn’t simply “behind” the murders, he was in charge of selecting who gets executed and who not. And by all accords, he was the most vicious one, condemning the greatest numbers to death. And he has been an indispensable part of the repressive machine of the regime throughout his life.

By all accounts, this man is one of the worst offenders of human rights and a mass murderer. He is also as radical as it can get. He has, for example, called the sharia-sanctioned punishment of amputating the hands of thieves “an honor for the Islamic regime” (link in Persian), he is known to have used death sentence far more liberally than most judges, for example not showing mercy to sick or mentally disabled or elderly prisoners when it comes to giving them death sentence, celebrating the deaths of prisoners by eating pastry after their execution (link in Persian), and he is known to have condemned people to stoning.

So, he is indisputably a monster. Question is, can he win?

It seems that the conventional wisdom holds that he is a viable threat to Rouhani. He allegedly has the power to unite all conservatives, and allegedly all the repressive regime apparatus will work to make him president. Of course, he still hasn’t truly united the conservatives, and we will see if that happens.

I think what worries people is the fact that recently there had been great signs that Raisi was being considered, or floated himself, as a viable successor not to Rouhani but Khamenei: and it wouldn’t make sense for someone like him to run for president if he wants to become the next Supreme Leader. Would he destroy his greater aspirations for power by subjecting himself to a vicious campaign which would certainly make him very unpopular (he is basically an unknown person with no name recognition right now), and then being openly rejected by people?

This line of reasoning has led many people to believe that the regime wants to install Raisi as president and to achieve this, it’s going to repeat 2009 and commit another election fraud, and that would be the first step for him to becoming the next Supreme Leader.

I don’t buy this. I have multiple reasons:

  1. The regime is not as unified as it was in 2009. The administration controls a big part of the electoral process, and Rouhani is certainly not going to cheat against himself. Now, if the election is really close, it’s possible for the Guardian Council or the Revolutionary Guard to move a few thousand votes to nudge Raisi across the finish line, but I’m almost certain the regime doesn’t have the resources to pull another 2009, where they released fan fiction instead of the real election results. And, who knows if the election will be close?
  2. I think it is much more sensible that instead of the regime deciding that Raisi should be the next Supreme Leader, he himself has decided that, and he is running to gain the presidency the conventional way. Why are we just assuming that the regime wants him as Supreme Leader? No one has any inside knowldege, we’re just reading the public signs, and those signs could have been emanated by Raisi himself.
  3. You know whose image would be even more damaged than someone who loses in a democratic election? Someone who steals an election to become president.

Basically, if I had to bet, I’d still bet that Rouhani would crush Raisi on the election day. But we will see more signs and can make better guesses in the near future.

Image credit: Meghdad Madadi, under  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, via Tasnim News

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