Ebrahim Raisi was confirmed as the Iranian regime’s next president in June, in a process whereby Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had been consolidating power as he prepares himself as his regime copes with a surge of social unrest.
In January 2018, more than 100 Iranian cities and towns were hosts to demonstrations that called for regime change. In November 2019, the prior uprising’s slogans were re-popularized in a series of protests that spontaneously erupted across nearly 200 localities. About 1,500 participants in the latter uprising were fatally shot in a matter of days, and at least 12,000 were arrested, many of whom became targets of a months-long campaign of torture at the behest of a judiciary then led by Ebrahim Raisi.
Under the Iranian regime’s system of “velayat-e faqih,” or absolute clerical rule, no one may directly challenge policies or edicts expressed by the supreme leader himself. However, in the wake of the 2019 and 2020 sham elections, Khamenei eliminated all rivals since his regime could not tolerate the slightest opposition.
Thus, it was no surprise that the regime’s parliament began to act as a simple rubber stamp for the cabinet appointments made by Khamenei’s designee for the office of president. As a result of Khamenei’s pervasive influence over the process, the current presidential administration is a handpicked team of thieves and terrorists.
Of the government’s 19 ministerial positions, about two-thirds of them are now held by the top commander of the terrorist Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Eight members of Raisi’s cabinet have been specifically designated as terrorists by the United States, but given that the US has extended terrorist designation to the entirety of the IRGC, it is fair to say that the administration as a whole is firmly in the hands of career terrorists.
A dozen of Raisi’s appointees, as well as Raisi himself, are currently subject to economic sanctions by the US, EU, or UN, and in some cases all three. Two cabinet officials – Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi and Deputy for Economic Affairs Mohsen Rezaei – are subject to Interpol arrest warrants for their roles in the regime’s terrorism during the early years of the IRGC’s foreign special operations division, the Quds Force. Another appointee, Roads and Housing Minister Rostam Ghasemi, succeeded Vahidi as commander of the Quds Force and is therefore equally responsible for later acts of Iran-backed terrorism.
Shockingly, none of this has prevented European leaders from approaching the Raisi administration with the same sense of friendliness and conciliation as it applied to dealings with its so-called “moderate” predecessor. Enrique Mora, the European Union official in charge of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, even attended Raisi’s inauguration in August, despite numerous warnings that this would provide him with undue global legitimacy while insulting those who have suffered at the hands of him or any of his appointees.
EU’s silence regarding a historic crime against humanity in which Raisi was a leading participant is a disgrace. In the summer of 1988, he was one of four officials to sit on a “death commission” in Tehran which implemented orders for the mass execution of political prisoners, mainly members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. Over 30,000 prisoners were executed in that massacre, which lasted all three months.
Raisi’s early assaults on the MEK are mirrored by the history of some of his cabinet appointees, whose affiliation with the Quds Force and IRGC intelligence often put them in direct conflict with activists who supported the Iranian Resistance’s vision for a democratic alternative to the theocratic dictatorship. This conflict is as relevant today as it was in 1988, given that Khamenei himself acknowledged the central role that the PMOI played in planning and organizing anti-government uprisings in 2018 and 2019.
In the wake of those uprisings, the MEK also organized mass boycotts of the sham parliamentary and presidential elections. In both cases, these were successful in depressing turnout to lows never before seen in the history of the clerical regime. Those boycotts make it abundantly clear that while Iran’s current presidential administration is likely more conservative than all its predecessors, it is also the least representative of Iranians’ political will, with the least claim to political legitimacy.
This makes it all the more shameful that some Western policymakers have decided to grant the administration legitimacy by welcoming Raisi’s “election” and encouraging participation in international gatherings by both Raisi and his advisors. Such gestures send a clear message that Tehran is free to trend further and further into its ideological extreme while marginalizing its own people. This will only make the regime more dangerous over time and undermine the Iranian people’s calls for regime change.