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Raisi’s funeral goes beyond Iran’s late president (ANALYSIS)

Raisi’s funeral goes beyond Iran’s late president (ANALYSIS)

(CNN) — From his days as a clerical student to overseeing executions as a member of the judiciary, Ibrahim Raisi’s life is inextricably linked to Iran’s turbulent modern history. Nevertheless, his presidency was remarkably unremarkable.


Unlike Iran’s previous presidents, Raisi was content to serve as an empty vessel carrying out the reactionary policies of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the ultimate arbiter of policymaking. He showed none of the subtle reactions of his predecessor, moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani. Also, he lacked the charisma of former conservative presidents, such as the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who were happy at Khamenei’s bidding but sought autonomy from the presidency.

So when foreign dignitaries from 68 countries gathered for Raisi’s funeral on Thursday, they might not have been thinking about the late president.

It was not a game-changing death, as was the 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, a military leader credited with building strategic dominance over much of the Middle East and helping to put America in a difficult position.

On the other hand, the absence of Raisi is unlikely to be noticed. However, his untimely death could not have come at a more crucial time for Iran.

“Foreign figures will try to get a feel for the country,” Trida Parsi, a Washington-based Iran analyst and executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, told CNN. “This is an opportunity for many of them to express how their relationship with Iran has changed.”

Iran is deeply embroiled in a war in Gaza, with Tehran-backed armed groups engaged in crude intervention with Israel and its allies in four different countries. In April, it launched an unprecedented direct attack on Israel from its border, following an Israeli airstrike on Tehran’s embassy in Damascus.

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At this tense moment for the region, leaders from Turkey to India to China, many of whom have declared days of national mourning for the president’s death, do not want to cause any stir. The deaths come after years of diplomatic efforts to reach a reconciliation with former regional adversaries such as the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which were represented at the funeral.

The emir of Qatar and foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait attended the funeral. He attended the funeral of the International Criminal Court seeking an arrest warrant against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh along with Israeli leaders.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to remember the funeral by placing flowers on coffins. It was a strong support for the regime and a demonstration of its authority. The Iranian population is deeply polarized, but the regime has proven it can still mobilize a critical mass.

Raisi funeral

Iranians follow a truck carrying the coffins of late President Ibrahim Raisi and his companions during a funeral in Tehran, Iran. Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Iran today no longer appears to be the pariah state that former US President Donald Trump nearly replaced in 2018 when he pulled out of the historic Obama-era nuclear deal, which exchanged economic sanctions for sanctions on Tehran’s nuclear program.

“This (funeral) is a way to show the progress countries have made in mending relations with Iran,” Parsi said. “We have not noticed how Iran’s relations in the region have undergone a significant change.”

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Foreign dignitaries may participate in side talks to understand Khamenei’s opaque and sometimes unpredictable thinking on domestic policy, which could have repercussions in the region.

According to the constitution, a presidential election must be held within 50 days of the death of the incumbent president. This is a relatively short period of time for Iran’s theocratic leaders to prepare for an election that will have enormous consequences. The elections will affect the issue of succession plans for the ailing 85-year-old Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s second-in-command. In addition, the competition could ease or inflame tensions caused by the youth-led national uprising that rocked the country two years ago.

Mourners attend a state-organized funeral for the late Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi at Azadi (Freedom) Square in Tehran, Iran on May 22, 2024.

Mourners attend the state-organized funeral of late Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi at Azadi (Freedom) Square in Tehran, Iran on May 22, 2024.

Khamenei has the final say on elections through the Guardian Council, judges appointed by the Supreme Leader and charged with vetting candidates. In the 2021 presidential election, the council disqualified the most viable candidates except for Raisi, paving the way for his presidency. The elections were generally considered highly fraudulent and the voter turnout very low.

The Chairman may re-run the match. He may also decide to reverse course and open himself up to Iran’s next president, who enjoys broad popular support.

“Iran can have elections before and after,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, an Iranian analyst and author. Amwaj.Mediato do Peggy Anderson, from CNN. “(Khamenei) has an unbeatable opportunity to protect his image, turn 180 degrees, open up the space and change the course in a way that allows people to come forward.”

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During his tenure, Rice made little effort to dispel the perception that he was a puppet president. He was widely criticized for presiding over the emptying of what was left of Iranian institutions.

41% voter turnout was recorded in the Assembly elections held in March last year. 2022 The national uprising poses the biggest internal threat to the regime in decades. Since those protests were brutally crushed, the bridge between the regime and its young and often disaffected population has grown ever wider.
“Khameni has put the Islamic Republic on a path where it can only stay in power by increasing repression,” Parsi said.

Opting for open elections could appease the disillusioned youth of the country, subject to persistent economic and political tensions. This could go some way towards stabilizing Iran’s volatile domestic situation. It could pave the way for a Western-friendly administration like Rouhani, who presided over the historic 2015 nuclear deal, albeit within the limits set by Khamenei.

However, analysts say this remains wishful thinking.

“It’s hard to see why Khamenei is changing course at this point. He has to recognize that he’s going down a path that’s not good for him, but that’s not the decision the regime has reached,” Parsi said. “Because of the succession (of the supreme leader), the regime wants the status quo. They are going to elect a leadership that will keep everything intact.”