Tears and Cheers

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The funeral for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who died along with the Iranian foreign minister and other officials on May 19 in a helicopter crash near Azerbaijan, was muted compared with the procession for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed by an American drone strike in 2020.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the theocracy’s head of state, for example, wept openly for Soleimani – but was “composed” for Raisi’s service, the Associated Press reported.

Many ordinary Iranians were less than sorry over Raisi’s death, too. The Guardian reported that there was cheering and even fireworks after his death was announced along with an official five-day mourning period.

“Many military agents have been stationed in the streets and even small squares since last night,” one witness told the newspaper. “The police have repeatedly warned that people who are happy about the death of the president will be prosecuted. People were lighting fireworks, listening and dancing to music, and those in the traffic kept honking in solidarity with those celebrating.”

That’s because the hard-line cleric and stalwart regime figure symbolized the worst elements of the country’s Islamic leadership,” noted the Washington Post.

Raisi has long been the face of regime repression through his posts as a prosecutor, chief justice of the supreme court, and his seat on a committee to judge the loyalty of prisoners to the regime when as many as 5,000 were disappeared or extrajudicially executed, according to Amnesty International. His critics say he’s responsible for thousands of other executions.

In 2021, he won Iran’s presidential election, marked by the lowest turnout in the country’s history and the disqualification of any significant opposition candidates. After a young woman died while in the custody of the “morality” police for violating the strict dress codes for women, he cracked down on the mass demonstrations that followed, with more than 550 killed and 60,000 people arrested. Twenty-five people have been given the death penalty for protesting, Human Rights Watch wrote.

Raisi didn’t appear willing to curry favor among the public, either. When only 41 percent of Iranian voters cast ballots in legislative elections in March, and many Iranians filed empty ballots to protest their government’s oppressive Islamic policies, wrote World Politics Review, the president described the turnout as “passionate.”

Now, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a resident scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argued in the New York Times that Raisi’s death is a bad omen for Iran and the world.

Iran has a complicated government where the president, who runs the government, has often been at odds with the country’s supreme leader, Khamenei, 85, who is also the country’s spiritual boss and leader of the armed forces. Contrary to other recent Iranian presidents, however, Raisi was close to Khamenei. He was widely believed to be one of two candidates in line to replace Khamenei when the supreme leader died, for example.

Now, however, Khamenei and other elites must figure out who will replace Raisi, a process that could trigger turmoil, Newsweek reported. In the meantime, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will assume the job until the presidential elections on June 28, NDTV explained.

Many observers think Khamenei’s son Mojtaba is now slated to become president. But Khamenei is not thrilled by the prospect of a monarchical transfer of power that might remind Iranians of the Shah who the Iranian Revolution deposed in 1979, wrote Reuters.

Writing in Politico, Takeyh and Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution, contended that one outcome was clear. Whoever is the next Iranian president will likely be a hardliner eager to complete the country’s nuclear program, challenge the US, expand Iranian power throughout the region and beyond, and suppress any internal dissent to said agenda.

Still, much of the public lacks confidence in the regime and instead views it with contempt and fear. That’s a recipe for a certain faction to retain power, but might not be a plan for peace and prosperity:

“With waning legitimacy, a failing economy and struggles for power behind the scenes, Iran’s regime is more brittle than ever,” wrote the Economist. “Raisi’s rise to the presidency marked the end of the regime’s claim to have democratic credentials. If his death augurs a new stage in the regime’s decay, that could prove to be dangerous for Iranians – and their region.”

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