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Iran: Raisi’s Cabinet Underscores Need for Assertive Western Action

Since Ebrahim Raisi became the Iranian regime’s president, it was apparent that his era means a surge in the regime’s terrorism and human rights violations. Within a week of his appointment on August 5, this perception was reinforced by his choices of personnel to head major government ministries. Raisi’s cabinet is poised to a collection of criminals and human rights abusers, who can be expected to move in lock-step toward greater repression of the domestic population and greater export of terrorism at the international community. 

The international community should see Raisi’s “election” as a call to action regarding the need for more assertive policies for dealing with the regime. The Iranian population boycotted the sham elections. As the Iranian Resistance reported, the voter turnout was less than 10 percent. 

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The scale of participation in this year’s boycott was largely determined by public awareness of Raisi’s legacy of violently suppressing dissent. 

In 2019, Raisi took over the position of judiciary chief on orders from the supreme leader. The appointment came in the wake of a nationwide anti-government uprising that broke out in the final days of 2017. Khamenei no doubt anticipated the recurrence of that unrest and put Raisi in charge of major elements of the regime’s response because he had demonstrated his commitment to corporal and capital punishment much earlier. In the summer of 1988, Raisi became a major figure in the “death commission” that oversaw a massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of  

Before Raisi was formally inaugurated, as when it was reported that at least 48 death sentences were carried out in July or that several human rights lawyers were arrested during the same period in an effort to further criminalize the defense of free speech. 

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These trends of politically motivated arrest and execution both persisted after Raisi’s August 5 inauguration, as did crackdowns on public demonstrations which had been more-or-less incessant since the widely boycotted June election. Such protests are indicative of tremendous bravery on the part of the Iranian people, especially given that they have little basis for confidence in the international response to Raisi’s presidency. 

His inauguration was attended, among other people, by Enrique Mora, the deputy political director for the European External Action Service. The EU’s tacit endorsement of Raisi’s presidency suggests a willingness to turn a blind eye to his role in the 1988 massacre and all of the human rights abuses that he has overseen since then. But it is not too late for the EU or its allies to contradict this message and signal their support for the Iranian people instead. And they may have more incentive to do so in the wake of his cabinet’s confirmation. 

If Western policy continues to emphasize friendly outreach to the Raisi administration after that time, it will effectively be granting the regime impunity not just in matters of accountability for past human rights abuses, but also in matters related to international terrorism, the spread of extremism, and the theft of resources from the Iranian people. 

This is to say, most of Raisi’s appointees are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the primary conduit for repression of dissent and also the source of the regime’s support for militant proxies throughout the region and the world. Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Raisi’s choice to head the Foreign Ministry, was notably close to Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s terrorist Quds Force prior to his death in a US drone strike in January 2020. There can be little doubt that he will carry on the late terrorist operative’s work with help from all those who championed Soleimani as part of the IRGC before rising through the ranks of the Iranian regime. 

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Ahmad Vahidi, the prospective head of Iran’s Interior Ministry, was even a commander in the Quds Force himself during the 1990s and is subject to an Interpol warrant for his involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building, which killed 85 people. Vahidi was also involved in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia two years later. His penchant for terrorism will surely guide his service to the regime’s new president.  

Neither the European Union nor the United States can afford to stand by and let such men take power. Doing so would certainly endanger their own interests by reinforcing Tehran’s sense of impunity. Disregard the nature of Raisi’s administration would be a terrible betrayal of Western nations’ reputation as defenders of universal human rights principles.