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Ebrahim Raisi

(1960 - )

Ebrahim Raisi was born on December 14, 1960, to a Persian clerical family in the Noghan district of Mashhad, Iran. His father, Seyed Haji, died when he was 5.

Raisi passed his primary-education in “Javadiyeh school,” then started studying in the Hawza (Islamic-seminary). He began his studies at the Qom Seminary at the age of 15. He then decided to study in the Navvab school for a short time. After that, he went to Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Mousavi Nezhad school where he studied while also teaching other students.

In 1976, he went to Qom to continue his studies at the Ayatollah Borujerdi school.

According to Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute, Raisi referred to himself as “Ayatollah;” however, the Iranian media questioned his religious credentials and Raisi began to refer to himself as hojat-ol-eslam, a clerical rank immediately beneath that of Ayatollah. Raisi subsequently again declared himself an Ayatollah shortly before the 2021 presidential election. He wears a black turban symbolizing that he is considered a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

In 1981, he was appointed the prosecutor of Karaj. Later on, he was also appointed as Prosecutor of Hamadan and served both positions together. After four months, he was appointed as Prosecutor of Hamadan Province.

He was appointed deputy prosecutor of Tehran in 1985 and moved to the capital. He was later given authority to address legal issues in some provinces like Lorestan, Semnan, and Kermanshah.

Three years after assuming the post, Raisi was involved in one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of the Islamic Republic. In 1988, he sat on a four-man committee that sent thousands of government opponents to their deaths. Many were executed in prison even though they had not been sentenced to death.

The majority of those killed were supporters of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, although supporters of other leftist factions were executed as well. According to Amnesty International, “thousands of political dissidents were systematically subjected to enforced disappearance in Iranian detention facilities across the country and extrajudicially executed pursuant to an order issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran and implemented across prisons in the country. Many of those killed during this time were subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the process.” Many were hung from cranes in public spaces.

The killings have been described as a political purge without precedent in modern Iranian history, both in terms of scope and coverup. The number of prisoners who were executed is uncertain, with estimates ranging from less than 3,000 to more than 30,000.

After Ayatollah Khomeini’s death and election of Ali Khamenei as the new Supreme Leader, Raisi was appointed as Tehran prosecutor. He held the office for five years from 1989 to 1994. In 1994, he was appointed as head of the General Inspection Office.

From 2004 until 2014, Raisi served as First Deputy Chief Justice of Iran. He was later appointed as Attorney-General of Iran in 2014, a position that he held until 2016, when he resigned to become Chairman of Astan Quds Razavi, an organization that manages the Imam Reza shrine and other institutions. That organization produced a 50-episode documentary film promoting the anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that aired on Iranian TV and was distributed to pilgrims to the shrine.

Raisi was named as one of the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces (JAMNA)’s presidential candidates in February 2017. He was defeated decisively by incumbent President Hassan Rouhani.

In 2021, Raisi ran again for the presidency and won the election. Most other candidates were disqualified beforehand and his victory was a foregone conclusion, which largely explained the low turnout (48.8%).

Raisi supports sex segregation. He said in a 2014 interview about a planned segregation in the Tehran Municipality that “I think this is a good move because the majority of women do a better job in a totally relaxed atmosphere and fit are required.” He is also a supporter of Islamization of universities, revision of the Internet, and censorship of Western culture.

Ali Vaez, the Iran director for the International Crisis Group, called Mr. Raisi a “tested and loyal apparatchik” who “owes his entire political career to Khamenei.”

Raisi also has been associated with the anti-Semitism pedaled by the regime. He has, for example, played a role in promoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion “as part of a sustained campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish people,” according to the ADL’s Jonathan. Greenblatt. “Raisi’s track record shows us that an obsessive hatred of Israel is not an abstraction but a major feature of his career.”

Greenblatt noted that in 2020, Raisi claimed “America and ‘global Zionism’ are plotting to subjugate all Muslims, pulling the strings of a global media empire, hatching devious plans in think tanks and conspiring to insult the Prophet Muhammad.”

The United States imposed sanctions on Raisi in 2019 over his human rights record, which included “administrative oversight over the executions of individuals who were juveniles at the time of their crime and the torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran, including amputations.” He was also accused of involvement in the regime’s brutal crackdown on Iran’s Green Movement protests in 2009. In 2019, he was running the judiciary when hundreds of peaceful unarmed demonstrators protested the price of gas. At least 7,000 were arrested, tortured, and sentenced to long prison terms.

The sanctions could interfere with U.S. relations with Iran, and negotiations over a return to the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) as they prohibit any dealings with him. The talks are also complicated by the optics of providing sanctions relief to a regime guilty of crimes against humanity when the Biden administration has made human rights a focus of its foreign policy. Given Raisi’s hardline attitude, and close relationship with Khamenei, President Biden also cannot claim, as President Obama did, that an agreement will moderate Iranian policy or improve relations.

When asked about his record, Raisi said, “I am proud of being a defender of human rights and of people’s security and comfort as a prosecutor wherever I was. All actions I carried out during my office were always in the direction of defending human rights.”

Raisi is married to Jamileh Alamolhoda. They have two daughters.

Sources: Farnaz Fassihi, “A Roadblock for Iran’s President-Elect: He’s on the U.S. Sanctions List,” New York Times, (June 19, 2021).
Matthew S. Schwartz, “What The Election Of A New Hard-Line President In Iran Means For The Nuclear Deal,” NPR, (June 21, 2021).
“Ebrahim Raisi,” Wikipedia.
Jonathan . Greenblatt, “Iran’s New President Has a Track Record of Antisemitism,” Newsweek, (June 27, 2021).

Photo: Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.