The Iranian regime’s new President Ebrahim Raisi held his first cabinet meeting on Thursday, a day after all but one of his initial appointees were approved by the handpicked parliament. In it, he claimed that the government should focus on policies that would “improve people’s livelihoods,” but the make-up of the new administration casts much doubt on the seriousness of its stated priorities. In fact, the Iranian people believed that Raisi would have the best interests of the people in mind long before his cabinet was appointed or confirmed.
Less than ten percent of the country’s eligible voters took part in the sham election that ultimately resulted in Raisi’s presidency on June 18. Even regime authorities acknowledged that the majority of the population sat out the election and that many of the ballots that were cast were invalid.
Raisi’s win was orchestrated well in advance by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. After Khamenei made it clear that he intended for Raisi to take over the presidency following Hassan Rouhani’s second term, the Guardian Council barred all other high-profile candidates from the ballot, leaving only six non-viable challengers, two of whom later dropped out for the expressed purpose of throwing their weight behind Raisi.
Raisi became the regime’s president while many Iranians have personally suffered or lost loved ones as a result of his actions as a government prosecutor and clerical judge. During the summer of 1988, Raisi was one of the main figures in the “death commissions” that carried out over 30,000 executions of political prisoners. In 2019, he took control of the entire judiciary and oversaw key aspects of the regime’s worst crackdown on dissent in recent memory. Above 1,500 people were killed immediately after the outbreak of a nationwide uprising in November of that year, and thousands more were subjected to torture for months after being arrested in connection with it.
All of this affirms Raisi’s indifference to the pain and suffering of ordinary Iranians. But skepticism about his administration’s policies stems not only from his legacy of human rights abuses but also from his prior contribution to the clerical regime’s misplaced priorities and endemic corruption. Prior to his appointment as judiciary chief, Raisi became only the third person to have stewardship over the so-called religious foundation known as Astan-e Quds Razavi which belongs to Khamenei. Thus he assumed a major role in the regime’s longstanding practice of using religion as a cover for the financing and logistical support of regional terrorist groups like Hezbollah.
Raisi’s commitment to this practice was underscored by his choices of cabinet officials, which include multiple figures who are under sanction by the US and Europe for their contributions to terrorism. Two of the newly-confirmed officials, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi and Deputy for Economic Affairs Mohsen Rezaee, are even subject to Interpol warrants related to their involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
A majority of the cabinet is comprised of members and close affiliates of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is a leading force in both suppressing dissent at home and promoting the regime’s fundamentalism ideology abroad. In remarks he delivered to the parliament during his confirmation hearing, the regime’s new Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian vowed support for what the regime calls the “Resistance Front,” a collection of terrorist groups and state actors in the region. Abdollahian also promised to “continue the path” of Qassem Soleimani, the eliminated commander of the IRGC’s foreign special operations division, the Quds Force, who was killed in a US drone strike in January 2020.
Pursuit of this priority is sure to entail the continued deflection of Iran’s national wealth away from the vital interests of the Iranian people and toward the self-interested ambitions of the regime’s leadership and the IRGC. And it is clear that several cabinet officials are prepared to aid in that effort despite their authority being ostensibly limited to domestic affairs.
Mohsen Rezaee, as well as being implicated in the AMIA bombing, is a former commander-in-chief of the IRGC, so there can be little question that he will utilize his influence over economic affairs to the benefit of its paramilitary objectives. The same can be said of Rostam Ghassemi, the new Minister for Roads and Urban Development, who was formerly the head of Khatam al-Anbia Construction Headquarters, an IRGC-owned conglomerate that contributes to the organization’s control over more than half of Iran’s GDP. In 2019, Ghassemi was sanctioned by the US over his involvement in a shipping network that “that is directed by and financially supports” the Quds Force.
The US similarly imposed sanctions on Javad Oji in 2020 before he was tapped to head the Iranian Oil Ministry. Those sanctions targeted individuals affiliated with the Mostazafan Foundation, an entity that operates much like Astan-e Quds Razavi in financing malign activities under the guise of religious charity. The US Treasury Department said in its blacklist order for Mostazafan, “Its holdings are expropriated from the Iranian people and are used by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to enrich his office, reward his political allies, and persecute the regime’s enemies.”
Regardless of the Raisi administration’s public promises to improve the livelihoods of Iranian citizens, the composition of Raisi’s cabinet leaves little doubt that the practice of “expropriation” continues to apace and will most likely continue to accelerate. This has implications for global stability, as well as for the conditions of Iranian society in the midst of ongoing coronavirus outbreaks and economic downturns.
The Iranian people have already responded to Raisi’s promotion by boycotting the sham election and staging large-scale protests in its immediate aftermath.
As Mrs. Maryam Rajavi said in July 2021, during Raisi’s four-year term of office, “the hostility and enmity between the Iranian regime and society will intensify more than ever before.” Mrs. Rajavi also emphasized that Raisi’s priorities would present the international community with a “litmus test” for their commitment to democratic principles and universal human rights. Raisi’s cabinet appointments reinforce those priorities and thus make it all the more imperative for leading Western powers and the United Nations to choose a side in advance of the looming conflict between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people.