Analysis: Iran crackdown could bolster Raisi’s credentials for top job

  • The application of the hijab is part of the attempt to strengthen the Islamic Republic
  • Khamenei has final say on policies, Raisi seen bidding
  • Raisi believes in tougher social restrictions – pro-reform official

DUBAI, Oct 25 (Reuters) – By tightening restrictions on women’s rights, President Ebrahim Raisi has bolstered his hardline credentials and possibly his chances of becoming Iran’s supreme leader, even at the cost of sparking protests mass and driving a wedge between many Iranians and the ruling elite, three analysts and a pro-reform official said.

A year after Raisi’s election marked the end of what many Iranians remember as a more pragmatic and tolerant era, his government’s stricter enforcement of wearing the hijab in the weeks before Mahsa’s death Amini’s detention on September 16 reflected a complete reassertion of hardline influence.

Now, as tens of thousands of protesters call for the downfall of the Islamic Republic in response to Amini’s death, hardliners appear to be stepping up their efforts, backing their ally Raisi’s use of force. against the protests, even though politics rests firmly in the hands of the Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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The backdrop is what analysts and insiders close to Iranian policymakers see as Khamenei, 83,’s determination to shore up the pillars of the Islamic Republic he has led since the death of its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. , in 1989.

Raisi, a staunch defender of Iran’s system of clerical rule, is widely seen by ordinary Iranians, foreign experts and clerical insiders as a candidate to succeed Khamenei, even though he has not publicly declared that ambition. The supreme leader has not endorsed a successor and others are also pictured, including Khamenei’s son Mojtaba.

“Raisi truly believes in the Supreme Leader’s revolutionary agenda. He is a hard-liner who believes in stricter social and political limitations,” a pro-reform official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. due to political sensitivities.

“I don’t know if he has personal ambitions to become the next supreme leader, but whether or not he succeeds the leader, let me point out that Raisi himself is an anti-Western cleric who does not believe in a freer society.”

Reuters could not reach officials from Raisi and Khamenei’s offices for comment.

A protege of Khamenei, Raisi was elected president in June 2021 in a tightly managed race that brought all branches of the state under tight control after years of more pragmatic rule under former President Hassan Rouhani.

Raisi enjoys the trust of the elite Revolutionary Guards, an uncompromising military force used by the state to violently crush political unrest over decades, and seen by Iranians as an influential voice in determining succession in Khamenei.

Appointed by Khamenei as the head of the judiciary in 2019, Raisi was placed under US sanctions a few months later for his role he allegedly played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Iran has never acknowledged the murders. Asked about the deaths at a press conference in June 2021, Raisi replied that a judge or prosecutor who stood up for people’s safety should be commended.

‘HIJAB AND CHASTITY’

A Raisi order in July that authorities must enforce Iran’s ‘hijab and chastity law’ led to more restrictions, such as banning women from entering certain banks, government offices and certain forms of public transport.

Then in Tehran, on September 13, the morality police arrested Amini – an Iranian Kurd – for “inappropriate dress”. Three days later, she died in a hospital in the capital after falling into a coma. Referring to the day Amini collapsed in police custody, the coroner said she briefly regained consciousness but “cardiopulmonary resuscitation was ineffective in the critical first minute, resulting in brain damage”.

The family deny that the 22-year-old had any heart problems.

Women ripped off and burned headscarves during protests sparked by her death, one of the boldest popular uprisings since the 1979 revolution and a symbolic blow against the Islamic Republic, which has sought to impose conservative dress codes on women in public.

“While succession is still in the background of Iranian politics, I see the increased attention to hijab, which began in earnest this summer, more as a reflection of the unification of hard-line power,” said Henry Rome of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. thinking group.

The intensification of enforcement under Raisi marked a break not only with the Rouhani era, but also with the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was known as a hardliner on many issues but resisted strict imposition. dress codes.

“Khamenei is preparing. He wants to leave a legacy, and his legacy should be a strengthening of the Islamic Republic, which translates into a hardening of its inner fabric,” said Cornelius Adebahr of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

While the protests prompted questions about hijab enforcement policy from some officials – Khamenei’s adviser Ali Larijani notably asked whether the police should enforce the headscarf – hardliners were inflexible.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, accused protesters of creating ‘hideous scenes’ in the name of women’s rights, saying protesters saw ‘freedom in nakedness and shamelessness women”.

The guards should have a say in the succession, with the next supreme leader more dependent on their support in the face of anti-government dissent, said Kasra Aarabi, head of the Iran program at the Tony Blair Institute.

‘REASI GET LOST’

The guards are also likely to play a major role if Iran decides on a full crackdown on the unrest, in which more than 200 people have already been killed, rights groups say.

But the succession has complicated leaders’ thinking about the severity of the crackdown, since the start of the unrest coincided with rumors about Khamenei’s fragile health, three analysts and an official told Reuters in September.

The establishment – a dual system of clerical authority and an elected president and parliament – has preoccupied itself with succession-related maneuvers even as it weighs in on security policy.

Some insiders fear using more force could expose divisions within its ranks while fueling more unrest, something it can ill afford at such a sensitive time, analysts and the official said in September.

Raisi himself encountered the wrath of protesters during a visit to a university in Tehran this month, where female students chanted “Raisi get lost” and “Mullahs get lost”.

Echoing Khamenei, Raisi repeatedly sought to blame the West for the unrest, accusing US President Joe Biden of sowing “chaos, terror and destruction”, and citing Khomeini’s description of the US as “the great satan”.

Under Raisi’s watch, months of indirect talks between Iran and the United States in Vienna over the rescue of a 2015 nuclear deal have stalled. Both sides say political decisions are needed from Tehran and Washington to address the remaining issues.

Sanctions against Iranian oil continued to weigh on the Iranian economy, pushing the currency to record highs.

Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iran at Reichman University in Israel, said: “Raisi takes such an extreme stance on women’s rights because he knows that’s what Khamenei wants.

“Following Khamenei’s stance on women’s issues would keep him in the race to replace Khamenei.”

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Additional reporting by Michael Georgy in Dubai and Tom Perry in Beirut; Written by Tom Perry, edited by William Maclean

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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