What’s on horizon for Iran’s government after Ebrahim Raisi’s death?

Under Raisi's presidency, Iran focused on improving relations with Middle Eastern countries.

Mausam Jha
First Published21 May 2024
Men place a huge portrait of late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi at the entrance of the Islamic republic's embassy in Baghdad during a condolences service on May 20, 2024 for the president and his entourage who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iran the previous day. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
Men place a huge portrait of late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi at the entrance of the Islamic republic’s embassy in Baghdad during a condolences service on May 20, 2024 for the president and his entourage who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iran the previous day. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)(AFP)

The death of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi, in a helicopter crash on Sunday is unlikely to result in immediate changes to Iran's ruling system, which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei determines.

However, Raisi was widely viewed as a leading candidate to succeed the 85-year-old supreme leader. His sudden death raises the possibility that Khamenei's son could eventually assume the position.

Also Read: Ebrahim Raisi dies in helicopter crash: What does Iranian President's death mean for India-Iran ties?

A potential hereditary succession would challenge the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic. Established as an alternative to monarchy, many Iranians already perceive the regime as corrupt and dictatorial.

The aftermath of Raisi's death raises questions about the future direction of Iran's leadership and its political system.

How does the Iranian government work?

Iran conducts regular elections for the president and parliament, allowing universal suffrage.

However, ultimate authority rests with the supreme leader, who holds decisive power over major policies, serves as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and controls the influential Revolutionary Guard.

The supreme leader also appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, a clerical body responsible for vetting candidates for president, parliament, and the Assembly of Experts, which selects the supreme leader, AP reported.

Also Read: Iran helicopter crash: Who was Ebrahim Raisi? Protégé of Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei

In theory, the clerics oversee the republic to ensure compliance with Islamic law. In practice, the supreme leader manages the ruling system meticulously to balance various interests, advance personal priorities, and safeguard against challenges to the Islamic Republic or his leadership.

Iran will hold presidential elections on June 28, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

How did Iran's relations change under Raisi's presidency?

During Raisi's presidency, there was a noticeable shift in Iran's foreign policy focus towards the Middle East, diverging from the priorities set by his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, who emphasized strengthening ties with European nations and normalizing relations with Western countries, PTI reported.

Under Raisi's leadership, diplomatic efforts were made to improve relations with Middle Eastern countries.

Iran-Saudi Arabia relations

Notably, Iraq hosted five rounds of negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, resulting in the historic normalization of their relations in early 2023.

On March 10, 2023, Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a historic agreement to restore diplomatic relations following a seven-year hiatus. Both nations pledged to usher in a new era of cooperation amidst their longstanding rivalry for dominance in the Persian Gulf region.

The exchange of ambassadors marked this breakthrough, the opening of embassies, and a series of high-level meetings.

Notably, President Ebrahim Raisi's November visit to Riyadh made him the first Iranian leader of his rank to visit the Saudi capital in eleven years.

Also Read: Ebrahim Raisi dies in helicopter crash: What does Iranian President's death mean for India-Iran ties?

However, at an emergency gathering of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League hosted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia successfully countered Iranian attempts to rally military backing for Hamas in its conflict with Israel.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia resisted Iran's pressure to convince the six Arab states with established diplomatic relations with Israel—Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco—to sever these ties.

Furthermore, Iran engaged in negotiations with Jordan and Egypt, with Iraq again playing a facilitating role. 

Iran also strengthened its ties with China and Russia during Raisi's presidency, aligning with the Supreme Leader's strategic pivot towards the East for long-term benefits.

(With inputs from agencies)

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