written by Jonatan Sameyach, April 25, 2019
Hojjat ol Eslam Ebrahim Raisi is the hardliner Shia cleric heading Iran’s judiciary who is the most likely successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi’s political experience in the Judiciary and Assembly of Experts, managerial experience as the custodian of a key regime bonyad (charitable foundation), close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and senior regime leadership (including Khamenei) place him among the regime’s most influential figures. Khamenei has been grooming Raisi for supreme leadership. Raisi’s future as a key decision maker in Iran is bright.
Raisi was born on December 14, 1960 in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province in northeastern Iran. He is married to Jamileh Alam ol Hoda, a prominent Iranian university professor and daughter of Ayatollah Ahmad Alam ol Hoda, a close Khamenei confidante and Khamenei’s Representative to Khorasan Razavi Province. Alam ol Hoda is a very hardline cleric whose attempts to galvanize protests against President Hassan Rouhani in late 2017 likely inadvertently sparked the protest movement that convulsed Iran for several weeks and continues in a more muted form even today.
Raisi’s political experience is deep. He has held several positions, many to which Khamenei directly appointed him:
- Judiciary Chief (2019 - Present)
- Assembly of Experts First Deputy Chairman (2019 - Present). Raisi has served as a member of the Assembly of Experts since 2006 representing South Khorasan Province. He was elected First Deputy Chairman by a vote of 43 out of 78 votes cast. The Assembly of Experts will elect the next supreme leader, and this *vote, in which he handily defeated another leading candidate to succeed Khamenei, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, could be seen as a test vote for that succession.
- Presidential Candidate (2017). Raisi received the backing of hardliners and the Society of Qom Seminary teachers, however, he was unable to defeat Hassan Rouhani.
- Expediency Discernment Council member (2017 - Present)
- Astan Quds Razavi Custodian (2016 - 2019). Khamenei’s appointment of Raisi to the custodianship position gave Raisi responsibility over Iran’s most holy Shia site, the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad. Raisi also gained oversight over a massive economic empire with interests in construction, oil and gas, agriculture, and information technology
- Iranian Attorney General (2014 - 2016)
- Deputy Chief of Justice (2004 - 2014)
- General Inspection Office Head (1994 - 2004)
- Tehran Prosecutor General (1989 - 1994)
Raisi’s personal *network runs deep as well, and has served him well throughout his career and rise as a top contender for Supreme Leadership. Influential regime figures in Raisi’s personal and political network expedited his promotion within Iranian politics. Raisi studied at the Qom Shia Seminary. He also studied at Shahid Motahhari University and graduated with a Ph.D. in Islamic Jurisprudence. Raisi established a close personal network with other clerics from his studies at the Qom Seminary, including Khamenei and Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani. Raisi attended lectures taught by Khamenei and Hamedani.
Raisi’s political network is not limited to influential clerics, and his ties extend to the IRGC. Former IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, and former Basij Organization Commander Mohammad Reza Naghdi expressed their support for Raisi by *attending his appointment ceremony as Astan Quds Razavi Custodian. Raisi also *maintains a close friendship with Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Tehran Mayor and the former Commander of the IRGC’s engineering wing, Khatam ol Anbia Construction Headquarters. Raisi’s religious credentials do not grant him the title of “Ayatollah,” but IRGC officials *address him as such, likely as an attempt to boost his legitimacy.
Raisi has also played a key role in suppressing anti-regime movements and quelling protesters, a stance that makes him desirable to the IRGC and regime hardliners. Founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appointed Raisi and three others to a judicial committee to prosecute political prisoners in 1988. Raisi’s committee oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners, most of whom were members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran faction. Raisi suppressed reformist demonstrators following Iran’s Green Revolution protests in 2009, after the fraudulent reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Raisi helped order the house arrest of Green Revolution leaders. During Raisi’s appointment as a Special Clerical Court Prosecutor, he jailed clerics who voiced their criticism against the regime. Raisi’s adjudications against anti-regime sentiments and criticism impressed the IRGC. The IRGC lent its support to Raisi’s 2017 presidential candidacy by detaining online reformist political activists.
Raisi’s track record suggests that his potential installation as Iran’s next Supreme Leader is unlikely to drive Iran towards any positive outcomes. Raisi’s suppression of reformist voices and judicial executions of those who challenge the regime’s idealogy underscore his hardliner nature. His deep ties to the IRGC and his managerial experience at over Astan Quds Razavi’s economic empire grant Raisi significant personal and power networks. An Islamic Republic with Raisi as its Supreme Leader and Commander-in-Chief will continue its destabilizing regional activities and continue policies that enable the IRGC and clerical leaders in Iran to dominate the political space in Iran against the interests of the U.S. and our regional allies.