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Helicopter Crash Claims Life of Iranian President Raisi and Key Government Officials

May 20, 20242:17

Now that Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi has died in a helicopter crash in the mountains near the Azerbaijan border, what are the implications for the Islamic Republic? Raisi's presidency was marked by internal crackdowns on dissent, heightened tensions with Israel, and a tough stance on Iran's nuclear program. Middle East Program Public Policy Fellow Yeganeh Torbati provides insights into the implications of Raisi’s death. She talks about the immediate succession plan, potential impact on domestic and foreign policy, and what the change may mean for Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Video Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    The president, of course, does have influence, especially on domestic policy and sort of sets the tone for how Iranians. But really in Iran, it's the supreme leader that holds ultimate power and makes the most consequential decisions. There is an immediate succession plan laid out by the Constitution where the first vice president,  the most senior of all the vice presidents, becomes, the temporary president and then elections will be held in a couple of months.

    But, this is not something that will change Iran's foreign policy, nor its significant domestic policies, because those are really set at a higher level. Ebrahim Raisi, while he was not super consequential in his role as president, he was certainly being groomed, for years, by the supreme leader, by the conservative establishment to eventually take on the supreme leader position when the current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei dies, and he is 85 years old. So, that, you know, is likely within the next decade or so. 

    He had been elevated over the past few years to increasingly visible roles. He was the head of the judiciary for a couple of years, and then he was basically handpicked to run in the presidential elections in 2021. The field was sort of cleared for him, to do that and to win, quite easily, even though the turnout for those elections was very low. And so he, he was kind of an option for the regime to turn to, to ensure that a loyalist, kind of stable,  trusted sort of conservative would replace Khamenei when he died or at least be an option to replace him. 

    And that now lies in a heap, and at the bottom of a mountain, in northern Iran, that plan. And so it's really a question for the regime, kind of what it does next. so I would say, short term, this doesn't mean a whole lot for Iran and how it's run, but long term it has, much larger implications.



Yeganeh Torbati

Public Policy Fellow
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