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How are Iranians reacting to President Raisi's death?

Shabnam von Hein
May 21, 2024

The sudden death of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi has divided Iranian society. The regime has declared five days of national mourning, but many people aren't sad.

People hold up posters of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a mourning ceremony for him at Vali-e-Asr square in downtown Tehran
State TV broadcast live images of mourners, many of them dressed in black, gathering in Iranian citiesImage: Vahid Salemi/AP Photo/picture alliance

The first of several funeral ceremonies began in Iran on Tuesday for President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and other victims of Sunday's helicopter crash near the Azerbaijan border.

It comes after Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared five days of mourning for the late president.

State TV broadcast live images of mourners, many of them dressed in black, gathering in the city of Tabriz on Tuesday.

Raisi's body was later flown from Tabriz, the closest major city to the remote crash site, to Tehran airport before heading to the holy Shiite Muslim city of Qom.

From there, it will return to the capital to lie at Tehran's Grand Mosalla Mosque before being transferred to his hometown of Mashahd, in eastern Iran, for burial on Thursday.

Even though state media reported that a large crowd of mourners appeared in Tabriz, some see a stark contrast in public grief compared with past commemorations for the deaths of other senior figures in the regime.

World leaders react to death of Iran's president

"I would love to get in the car with my friends and drive to the Caspian Sea, but today is not a public holiday," a young woman living in Tehran, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told DW.

"I have to work today. Only tomorrow has been officially announced as a public holiday. Maybe because the memorial service is being held in Tehran tomorrow."

She said she would definitely not go to the funeral service. "He wasn't my president, I didn't vote for him. I haven't voted for a long time because I don't believe that my vote counts or changes anything."

A controversial figure

Raisi was 18 years old when the Islamic Republic was established after the 1979 revolution.

He rapidly ascended through the ranks of power.

He first was appointed prosecutor general of Karaj, a suburb of Tehran, and eventually served as deputy prosecutor for all of the capital.

In the late 1980s, he allegedly played a key role as prosecutor in the executions of thousands of political prisoners. Raisi denied personal involvement while praising the decision to go ahead with the executions.

Raisi was then promoted to Tehran chief prosecutor in 1989 and deputy head of the judiciary in 2004, a position he held for a decade including during a crackdown on mass protests in 2009.

Death of Iran's president draws mixed reactions

Seen as a hardliner and a protege of Supreme Leader Khamenei, Raisi won the 2021 presidential election in a poll that saw his main rivals barred from running and a record-low turnout for the race, at just about 48%. He won almost 62% of the vote, mainly from the religious conservative sections of the population.

Raisi succeeded the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear activities.

And the ultra-conservative's time in office saw mass anti-government protests and a deepening economic turmoil.

An independent UN fact-finding mission earlier this year found that Raisi's administration had committed crimes against humanity through its "violent repression" of protests and discrimination against women.

Reactions on social media

On social media, many Iranians have also welcomed Raisi's death, posting pictures and videos of people dancing or setting off fireworks after the news broke out.

Funeral events begin for Iranian president

Saeed Afkari, the brother of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, who was executed in September 2020, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: "I have never seen my mother so happy in all these years."

Mehrdad Darvishpour, professor at Mälardalen University in Sweden, said that it would have been fair had Raisi been brought before an international court to face justice for his crimes.

"But that would not have been possible in the near future. That's why many Iranians are happy that he died the way he did, especially since he was not only one of the most criminal figures in this regime, but also because he was considered one of the possible candidates to succeed Khamenei as supreme leaderconsidered one of the possible candidates to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader," he said. 

This article was originally written in German.

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