Explainer: Implications of Raisi’s death for Iran’s leadership

Mohamed Samir
3 Min Read

The untimely demise of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash has sparked immediate speculation about his potential successor. Raisi’s death is poised to have profound implications for the trajectory of one of the Middle East’s most influential roles, as he was once seen as a possible heir to the 85-year-old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

What’s the difference between Iran’s Supreme Leader and President?

The Supreme Leader, referred to as the “Guardian Jurist” within Shia Islam, wields absolute authority in Iran, overseeing all pivotal state decisions. This role, conceived post-1979 Islamic Revolution, doubles as the nation’s figurehead and the armed forces’ commander-in-chief.

Traditionally, only men have occupied this role. According to Shia tenets upheld in Iran, a high-ranking Shia cleric, ideally an “Ayatollah,” is eligible—though Khamenei’s attainment of this level has been a subject of debate.

Conversely, the President of Iran helms the executive branch, elected every four years through a scrutinized process. The President’s influence on Iran’s policy and economic landscape can be substantial, contingent on their political clout.

What happens next?

Iran’s Constitution mandates that the First Vice President assumes interim leadership following a President’s death. A new presidential election is required within 50 days, orchestrated alongside the judiciary chief and parliament speaker.

In this scenario, Mohammad Mokhber, ex-Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer and custodian of the nation’s assets, is the probable acting leader. To address potential governance stability concerns, Khamenei assured the public of seamless country management, preempting official confirmation of Raisi’s passing.

The regional ramifications of Raisi’s passing

Raisi’s absence raises pivotal questions about the succession of Supreme Leader Khamenei, a topic that has long engaged scholars and political analysts.

Moreover, Raisi’s death might influence Iran’s regional dynamics. Iran’s support for anti-Israel proxy factions and the Revolutionary Guards’ commitment to safeguarding Iran during this volatile period are of note. Raisi’s tenure saw improved ties with Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While this approach may persist, a new leader could recalibrate priorities.

Who will lead next?

Iran’s intricate political fabric offers little transparency regarding Khamenei’s successor. Discussions are typically confined to inner circles, though Raisi and Mojtaba Khamenei, the Supreme Leader’s son, have been frequently mentioned as frontrunners.

With Raisi’s departure, Mojtaba emerges as a prominent candidate, albeit a contentious one, given Iran’s sensitive history with dynastic rule—a stark contrast to the 1979 Islamic Revolution’s ethos.

Mojtaba’s public appeal remains untested, given his absence from governmental roles and limited public presence. For legitimacy, the next Supreme Leader must resonate with the populace that endorses the prevailing religious governance.

 

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Mohamed Samir Khedr is an economic and political journalist, analyst, and editor specializing in geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean. For the past decade, he has covered Egypt's and the MENA region's financial, business, and geopolitical updates. Currently, he is the Executive Editor of the Daily News Egypt, where he leads a team of journalists in producing high-quality, in-depth reporting and analysis on the region's most pressing issues. His work has been featured in leading international publications. Samir is a highly respected expert on the Middle East and Africa, and his insights are regularly sought by policymakers, academics, and business leaders. He is a passionate advocate for independent journalism and a strong believer in the power of storytelling to inform and inspire. Twitter: https://twitter.com/Moh_S_Khedr LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohamed-samir-khedr/
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