Hardline Cleric Ebrahim Raisi Becomes Leading Candidate for Iranian Supreme Leader

Ultra-conservative cleric appointed head of Iran's judiciary

Hardline Islamic cleric Ebrahim Raisi has become the leading candidate to succeed 79-year-old Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after he was named as head of the country’s judiciary.

Last week, Raisi was appointed as chief of the Iranian judiciary by current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meaning he now holds significant power over the country’s theocratic legal system. On Tuesday, he was also elected deputy chief of the 88-member Assembly of Experts, the clerical body tasked with choosing the next supreme leader, with the current Ayatollah turning 80 this year.

In becoming head of the judiciary, Raisi succeeds Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, who has long been touted as a future Supreme Leader. Larijani also ran for the position of deputy chief of the Assembly of Experts but lost out to Raisi, indicating his hopes of becoming the Supreme Leader may be fading.

As a result, Raisi is now well positioned to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he retires or passes away. As noted by the Atlantic Council, Raisi’s loyalty to the regime and hardline anti-Western views mean he is an obvious fit for the role:

With Khamenei about to turn eighty, the race is on to choose his successor and Raisi is a viable contender thanks to a number of factors. Like both Khomeini and Khamenei, Raisi is a seyyed or direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammad. He is a former student of Khamenei and remains staunchly loyal to him. He is politically well-connected and acceptable to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on account of his conservative views. He has undergone both clerical as well as university education, and has a PhD in theology.

However, Raisi is widely despised by many Iranians for his involvement in a range of egregious human rights abuses, having been involved in the execution of hundreds of political prisoners, including pregnant women and teenage girls.

He has also failed in his previous attempts to run for political office, after he unsuccessfully ran in the 2017 presidential elections on a platform criticizing the deal signed by President Hassan Rouhani’s nuclear agreement with the United States.

“Larijani’s work as the head of judiciary was not acceptable,” Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi told Reuters. “But to replace him with Raisi, who had a role in the past in extrajudicial execution and massacre of political prisoners, will taint the judiciary even more … It is replacing bad with worse.”

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