A New President Takes Office in Iran, Solidifying Hard-Line Control

A New President Takes Office in Iran, Solidifying Hard-Line Control
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A New President Takes Office in Iran, Solidifying Hard-Line Control

A New President Takes Office in Iran, Solidifying Hard-Line Control

Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in as Iran’s new president on Thursday, consolidating the power of conservatives who now control all branches of government in the Islamic Republic and are ready to continue a harder line in foreign and domestic policies.

Mr Raisi, 60, a protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, won a low-turnout election in June that was orchestrated to prevent any credible opponent – especially any moderate – from running. He is seen as Mr. Khamenei’s choice to succeed him as supreme leader in a system where a small group of Shiite clerics, not elected officials, hold ultimate power.

The inauguration ceremony, at the Tehran Parliament, took place against a backdrop of strict security and great pomp, with more than 100 foreign dignitaries arriving in luxury cars, a military band playing the national anthem and the closed capital.

Iran’s support for militant groups in the Middle East and its support for the Syrian government have been a point of contention with neighbors and Western powers. Yet Mr. Raisi adopted a defiant tone, praising Iran’s regional policies as a “stabilizing force” in the region and condemning foreign intervention in Iranian affairs.

“The policy of pressure and sanctions will not make the Iranian people renounce their rights, including the right to development,” Raisi said. “The sanctions must be lifted. We will support any diplomatic plan that supports this goal. “

He pledged to obtain the lifting of international sanctions, to improve ties with neighboring countries and to unite his country’s political factions. But Mr Raisi has not come up with a concrete plan to address such issues.

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After six rounds of talks in Vienna with world powers that aimed to revive the 2015 deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program, negotiations are now at a standstill and it’s unclear when they could resume.

Iran’s nemesis Saudi Arabia declined an invitation to attend the inauguration, and prominent figures from rival reformist and centrist political parties were also absent from the ceremony.

As Mr. Raisi, a former Iranian justice chief, sets out to engage with the world, accusations of human rights violations will follow.

International rights groups say he was part of a four-person committee that ordered the execution of 5,000 political dissidents in 1988. Critics of the Iranian government, including opposition figures and activists rights, have called on the international community to avoid it.

But diplomacy with Iran is not ruled out, the United States and the European Union have said, as the Biden administration and European leaders say relaunching the 2015 nuclear deal remains the best option for curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

After President Donald J. Trump left the deal in 2018, Iran stepped up its uranium enrichment, fueling fears it could develop a nuclear weapon. The 2015 deal was made under Mr Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, a more moderate politician who defeated Mr Raisi in the 2017 election, and it is not yet clear whether the change of government will result in a change in Tehran’s negotiating position.

The European Union sent a high-level delegation to the inauguration which included Enrique Mora, one of the coordinators of the nuclear talks. Senior officials from Russia, South Korea, Turkey, Oman, Armenia and the Vatican were also present, as were leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah. Some took the opportunity to speak with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the ceremony.

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Mr Raisi has not officially announced the names of cabinet ministers, but a list leaked to local media indicates that key positions such as the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Intelligence and Home Affairs will be offered to men with close ties to the intelligence and security apparatus and affiliations. with the elite corps of the Revolutionary Guards. Mr Raisi said he would submit his proposed list to Parliament after the inauguration; the Speaker of Parliament said it would be approved early next week.

“Raisi’s presidency is largely the rise and dominance of the military and security branch of the Islamic Republic and the retreat of technocrats and moderate voices,” said Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies of the Islamic Republic of University of Denver.

Mr. Raisi’s most immediate crisis involves tensions with Israel. An Israeli-run tanker was attacked by drones last Friday, killing two crew members, and an attempt was made on Monday to hijack another tanker in the Arabian Sea. Israel, the United States and Britain accused Iran of being behind the incidents, which Iran has denied.

Mr Raisi also faces the deep discontent of many Iranians who did not participate in the elections and did not vote out of frustration with the status quo and lack of hope for reform. Mr. Raisi’s rise to the presidency was widely seen as conceived by the conservative religious establishment, particularly Mr. Khamenei.

In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, anger over a water shortage in the southern province of Khuzestan led to anti-government protests in several cities. Crowds of men and women chanted the fall of the Islamic Republic and the removal of its main leaders. Security forces dispersed the crowds with guns and tear gas, killing several people, rights groups said, and made hundreds of arrests.

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Iranian activists have warned that given Mr. Raisi’s background in the justice system, which has jailed and executed dissidents, journalists and lawyers, they expect more oppression from the state under his administration. . This includes passing a bill that would severely restrict internet access and block popular social media apps like Instagram and WhatsApp.

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