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Iranian President Raisi’s Death

Written by Carla Elalam Edited by Eliza Dorton and Annika Lilja



On May 19, 2024, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other high-ranking Iranian officials died in a helicopter crash in the country’s eastern Azerbaijan province. The vice president of Iran, Mohammad Mokhber, has been appointed the interim president until new elections are held. 


In Iran, the power structure places the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on top followed by the President, who oversees the executive branch and implements policies. Below the president is the Vice President, who takes on presidential roles under circumstances like these. 


Raisi's death has sparked mourning as well as celebrations across Iran, reflecting the deep divisions within the country. Many mourned the loss of their president, as large crowds gathered in central Tehran Vali-e-Asr Square praying and sobbing together. Those who mourned saw Raisi as a strong leader who upheld the values of the Islamic Republic.


For others, Raisi’s legacy directly corresponds with the dark chapters of Iran’s history. Often referred to as the “Butcher of Tehran,” he was involved in the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners which claimed the lives of over 3,000 Iranians. Additionally, Raisi led a brutal crackdown on the 2022 protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini after the morality police arrested her for violating the country’s strict dress code. During these protests, over 500 Iranians were arrested, and more than 22,000 were detained, fueling greater animosity from Iranians towards Raisi.


Following Raisi’s death, Iran now faces political uncertainty. President Raisi was a potential candidate for the next Supreme Leader, a position currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, age 85. With Raisi's unexpected passing, the immediate focus turns to the presidential elections that will legally need to be held within the next 50 days of Raisi’s passing. Regarding the elections, CNN reports, “Experts say that the elections are likely to be hastily organized, with poor voter participation. In March, Iran recorded its lowest electoral turnout since the Islamic Republic’s founding in 1979, despite government efforts to rally voters ahead of the ballot.” 


Beyond internal power struggles, Iran has faced escalating tensions around the world in the past months, particularly in Israel. The recent exchange of direct strikes between Iran and Israel, along with the engagement of Iran-backed groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah with Israeli forces, adds to the conflicts Iran is facing following Raisi’s death. 


Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations put out a statement that the country plans to “resolutely pursue its foreign policy agenda” under Supreme Leader Khamenei. “Without a doubt, the path of Iran’s foreign policy will continue with strength and power, under the guidance of the Supreme Leader,” the council said (News 18). 


Raisi's death came at a difficult time for Iran, but the government will continue its efforts, domestically and internationally. Regarding the death's impact on America-Iran relations, White House national security spokesman John Kirby let out a statement saying, “We don’t anticipate any change in Iranian behavior, and therefore, the Iranians should not expect any change in American behavior when it comes to holding them accountable” (AP News).


 

Sources:


“Iran’s President Killed in Helicopter Crash, Election Set for next Month.” AP News, apnews.com/live/helicopter-iranian-president-crash.


Morrison, Dan. “Missing Iran President ‘Has Blood on His Hands’: Ebrahim Raisi and Iran’s Prison Massacres.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 20 May 2024, www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2024/05/20/iran-president-ebrahim-raisi-massacre-prison/73765006007/


Crane, Emily. “Iranian Women Celebrate Death of President Ebrahim Raisi, Who Led Brutal Crackdown on Rights.” New York Post, New York Post, 20 May 2024, nypost.com/2024/05/20/world-news/iranian-women-celebrate-president-ebrahim-raisis-death-by-dancing-toasting/


Ebrahim, Nadeen. “Iran’s President Has Died in Office. Here’s What Happens Next.” CNN, Cable News Network, 20 May 2024, www.cnn.com/2024/05/20/middleeast/ebrahim-raisi-dies-succession-what-is-next-explainer-mime-intl/index.html


Rohit. “How Will Iranian President Raisi’s Death Impact the Islamic Republic and the Middle East?” News18, News18, 20 May 2024, www.news18.com/world/how-will-iranian-president-raisis-death-impact-the-islamic-republic-and-the-middle-east-8897042.html.

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