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Ebrahim Raisi: What to expect from Iran's new president

Iran is confronting multiple domestic and international challenges, from water shortages and power outages to skyrocketing inflation and nuclear tensions. Can President Ebrahim Raisi tackle them?

Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi

As a prosecutor, Raisi is linked to the mass executions of political prisoners, Marxists and other leftists in the 1980s

On Thursday, 60-year-old Ebrahim Raisi will be sworn in before parliament as the Islamic Republic's sixth president after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei inaugurated him on Tuesday in a ceremony broadcast live on state television.  

However, the handover of power to a new administration is being greeted by many Iranians with a sense of hopelessness and resignation.

"Raisi and his government will face major national as well as international challenges," said Sina Azodi, an expert on Iran at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council.

Iran currently has been suffering from its worst drought in more than 50 years. Water is scarce, power outages are frequent and the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly. Inflation, meanwhile, has skyrocketed due to the pressure of US sanctions. Many Iranians feel exhausted and demoralized.

Protests against the government continue to flare up in various parts of Iran, most recently in Khuzestan province in the southwest.

There is not much hope that things will change for the better under the new president.

Voter turnout in the July 18 presidential election was just 48.8%, according to official figures, the lowest since the 1979 revolution, underscoring Iranians' disenchantment with the political system.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ebrahim Raisi

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (l) inaugurated Ebrahim Raisi (r) on Tuesday in a ceremony broadcast live on state television

How will it affect the nuclear agreement?

"Ebrahim Raisi had promised a lot during his election campaign, including improving the economic situation. For that to happen, US sanctions must first be lifted," said Iran expert Azodi.

But Raisi, who was Iran's judiciary chief until his election victory, brings no foreign policy experience to the table, the analyst pointed out.

"Under President Hassan Rouhani, Mohammad Javad Zarif was foreign minister and in charge of the nuclear talks. Zarif had lived in the US for more than 20 years and was a long-time diplomat at the UN in New York. He knows the US and US politics very well. An experienced foreign policy expert like Zarif is missing on Raisi's side. I fear this will be a serious problem."

During his presidency, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the country.

A year later, Iran also started to gradually withdraw from its treaty obligations.

Tehran has since violated nearly all of the technical provisions of the deal, which is meant to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Still, the Iranian leadership — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say in the Islamic Republic — says it wants to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Negotiations at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on saving the nuclear agreement, which began after President Joe Biden took office in the US, are to continue after the change of government in Tehran.

Watch video 04:43

Hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi wins Iran's presidential election: Amir Havasi reports

A hawkish ideologue as new foreign minister?

Observers believe Aki Bagheri Kani will become Iran's new foreign minister. Until now, the 54-year-old has been the deputy chief of the judiciary, where he worked closely with Raisi.

After Raisi's election victory, Bagheri Kani was sent to work at the Foreign Ministry. In recent weeks, he has been present at meetings of outgoing Foreign Minister Zarif.

Bagheri Kani is no stranger to the Foreign Ministry. During the presidency of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bagheri Kani was deputy to foreign policy expert Said Jalili.

Jalili, in turn, was deputy foreign minister and Iran's chief negotiator in nuclear talks with the EU from 2007 to 2013. Those talks, held by the uncompromising ideologue Jalili, were unsuccessful.

Only when moderate President Rouhani took office was there movement in the talks and both sides managed to strike an agreement to put an end to the nuclear dispute. 

Since the deal, Jalili has harshly criticized Rouhani's government for making too many concessions and achieving too little.

Bagheri Kani has been a harsh critic of the nuclear agreement as well. So, one cannot expect much diplomatic tact from him, say experts.

Bagheri Kani had studied economics at Tehran's Imam Sadgh University, a private Islamic college where students are selected strictly according to religious criteria.

Loyalists to the religious ideology are trained there to later hold important offices as representatives of conservative circles.

No let-up in crackdown on critics and NGOs

There will likely be no improvement on the civil and human rights front under President Raisi. Activists, government critics and NGOs who draw attention to political, social, economic and environmental problems, among others, continue to face threats to their lives and freedom.

Watch video 03:33

Why are Iranian voters so frustrated?

Authorities quickly try to silence them by clamping down on their activities and imprisoning activists. For instance, seven well-known environmental activists have been put behind bars since January 2018 for allegedly spying for the United States, even though no evidence has been presented against them so far.

Among the jailed activists was Kavous Seyed Emami, a renowned environmentalist and head of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. In February 2018, he died in solitary confinement under mysterious circumstances.

During Raisi's tenure as head of the judiciary, pressure on environmentalists and civil society activists continued to rise.

Iran's largest nongovernmental organization, which focuses primarily on the rights of children and single parents, was forced to suspend its work. The NGO's independence and its extensive and influential network among the disadvantaged classes on the fringes of society was a thorn in the side of the hard-liners in Iran.

Reconciliation with civil society 

"Raisi has no credibility in civil society," Tehran-based women's and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi told DW. "The majority of voters did not want Raisi as president: They know about his crucial role in massive human rights violations over the past four decades."

Raisi has been a member of the judiciary since the 1979 revolution.As a prosecutor, Raisi is linked to the mass executions of political prisoners, Marxists and other leftists in the 1980s.

"The human rights situation in Iran will most certainly be a major challenge for Raisi and his government soon," Narges Mohammadi said.

"Many Iranians are dissatisfied and angry. They will gather in the streets again. It's not hard to guess how the next government will deal with this. I don't think Raisi will grant us our civil rights, which are enshrined in the country's constitution: The right to peaceful assembly or to form NGOs. He and the people around him have no understanding of human rights or dialogue with civil society."

This article was translated from German.

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