By Prabhat Jawla *
The landslide victory of Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Raisi1 in the presidential election on June 18, 2021 shows that the Conservatives (principleists) will now have control over all three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial. But Ebrahim Raisi’s term of office as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran is unlikely to go smoothly in view of the immense challenges that lie ahead of us both in domestic and foreign policy. In the very first press conference, Raisi stood up to Iran’s existing position on the nuclear issue, missile program and regional activities; he also reiterated the prospect of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. Domestically, the greatest challenge for his government is to improve Iran’s economic situation and the standard of living of its people.
The new presidency of the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi will have to bite the bullet to solve the problems facing the Islamic Republic of Iran, something conservatives have deliberately avoided in the past. Since Hassan Rouhani took over the presidency after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tumultuous eight years, Conservatives have conveniently blamed Rouhani for every crisis in Iran The death of the protesters was attributed to the Rouhani government. The shooting of the Ukrainian plane in January 2020 is another example of this kind.3 With the Conservatives in control of the presidency, parliament and the judiciary, the Raisi government can no longer evade these critical problems facing Iran.
The question of the low turnout in the elections shows the Iranians’ apathy towards the reforms in the country. Such apathy will inevitably find expression in public protests unless the public feels the necessary economic compensation.4 Although protests were an essential legacy of the Islamic Revolution, the frequency and intensity of protests have increased in recent years as the economic protests from 2017-18, protests against the increase in fuel prices in 2019 and after the shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner in January 2020.
To some extent, the grievances behind these protests can be traced back to the â€œmaximum pressureâ€ policies of Donald Trump’s administration, but this does not undermine the importance of serious political problems within the Islamic Republic. Hence, the new Conservative administration can no longer afford to blame Rouhani or Trump. Although the increased use of violence has so far helped contain the protests, the Raisi presidency must make tangible and effective political decisions or conservatives would only be the target of public resentment.
The economic impact of the pandemic is challenging even for the world’s largest economies. In the case of Iran, however, the pandemic exacerbated existing economic hardships. The Rouhani government had started negotiations with the Joseph Biden government in the White House to resume the 2015 nuclear deal. Half a dozen rounds of talks have already been held, but substantial results are not yet apparent.
The recovery from the initial COVID-19 shocks has been moderate, and the lack of investment from either the insignificant private sector in Iran or foreign investment only added to the challenges that existed.5 The Iranian economy has been largely due to the for three years sanctions imposed by the US; the pandemic-induced oil shocks appear to have made the situation worse. Nevertheless, the structural problems of the Iranian economy remain a central concern of the Raisi government.
In his first press conference, President-elect Raisi insisted that the economy, alongside poverty reduction, was his main concern, which he had highlighted in his populist-oriented campaign. “[t]he message of the Iranian nation was the need for a change in the economic situation, â€noted Raisi.6 He also emphasized,â€œ Our domestic policy and priorities in this government will be to improve the business situation and the living conditions of the people. â€7 In the short term The Raisi government can expect some relief from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but it cannot be a general-purpose vehicle for Iran’s economic problems.
Not only Raisi’s ultra-conservative image or proximity to the Supreme Leader, but also his reputation for human rights would be his immediate challenge outside of Iran. Also, Raisi would be the first Iranian president to be sanctioned by the United States, a label that Raisi hopes will be lifted along with the sanctions. As a prosecutor, Raisi was part of the infamous â€œDeath Commissionâ€ that allegedly carried out mass executions of political prisoners in 1988.8 human rights groups around the world are pushing this issue, which could be a major challenge for the new president. “All I have done during my tenure has been to defend human rights,” said Raisi, defending his actions and his role in the Commission.9
Raisi also stood up to his ultra-conservative credentials by saying a resounding â€œnoâ€ in response to a question about talks with President Biden.10 Shortly after his victory, Raisi even paid a visit to incumbent Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, during which the main topic was, that was discussed.11 On the issue of the nuclear deal, Raisi reiterated Iran’s position vis-a-vis JCPOA, promises continuity to the previous government. He added, “Our nation has resisted the pressure, and the world should know that our government’s foreign policy does not begin with the JCPOA because it will not be limited to the JCPOA.” JCPOA negotiations, he said, “we are not going to tie the economic situation and people’s conditions to the negotiations.” 13 Nonetheless, the Raisi government is likely to break through after the agreement comes into effect to cash in months’ credit. long negotiations.
Raisi faced the question of maintaining friendly relations with Saudi Arabia. He claimed, “Relations with all countries in the world, especially neighboring countries … there is no obstacle on the part of the Islamic Republic to reopen embassies between the two countries regarding Saudi Arabia.” 14 That shouldn’t come as a surprise, there Riyadh and Tehran had spoken in Baghdad, but Raisi’s commitment to maintaining relations with Riyadh is a crucial development.15 He has since maintained Iran’s position on ballistic missiles and its regional activities. “Regional and missile issues are non-negotiable,” Raisi emphasized.16
To sum up, the Raisi government is likely to face major challenges, both internally and externally. The new Conservative Presidency cannot afford to ignore or blame the problems plaguing the Islamic Republic. Given the numerous complaints from the public, the protests are likely to continue and, if the people are offered intangible benefits, Raisi would directly expose his government and the larger Conservative bloc to public anger. Foreign policy challenges would go beyond the JCPOA issue and include the Iranian missile program and its regional activities. So far, Raisi has not signaled any significant changes, but his personal image would be the immediate foreign policy challenge for the new presidency.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.
* About the author: Mr. Prabhat Jawla is a non-resident researcher at the Middle East Institute, New Delhi
Source: This article was published by Manohar Parrikar IDSA
- 1. Sarbas Nazari, “Hardliner Raisi wins Iranian presidency with record-low voter turnout”, Al monitor, June 19, 2021.
- 2.“The gasoline price hike in 2019 was a collective decision – Iran’s President”, Iran International, 06/13/2021.
- 3.“Anti-government protests as Iran admits shooting down plane in Ukraine”, The national, January 11th, 2020.
- 4th“Analysts warn Iran’s Raisi of crisis if it ignores disaffected voters”, Iran International, June 21, 2021.
- 5.“Iran Economic Monitor: The economy at a crossroads”, The World Bank, Spring 2021.
- 6. Jason M. Brodsky, Senior Middle East Analyst and Editor at Iran International, Twitter post, June 21, 2021, 4:28 p.m.
- 7th“Regional, missile problems not negotiable”, More news agency, June 21, 2021.
- 8. Maziar Motamedi, “Iran’s President-Elect Raisi Brings Links to Mass Executions”, Al-Jazeera, June 21, 2021.
- 9 ibid.
- 10.“Iran’s Raisi says he will not meet with Biden even if the US lifts sanctions”, Iran International, June 21, 2021.
- 11.“Zarif, Raeisi meeting”, More news agency, June 21, 2021.
- 12thMore news agency, No. 7th
- 13 ibid.
- 14 ibid.
- 15. Prasanta Kumar Pradhan, “Saudi-Iran Talks: Ray of Light in the Gulf”, MP-IDSA comment, May 25, 2021.
- 16.More news agency, No. 7th