Posts Tagged ‘Ebrahim Raisi’

Iran hit by second day of anti-government protests

December 29, 2017

BBC News

Iranians protest against high prices in the city of Mashhad on 28 December 2017
The protests in Mashhad on Thursday led to 52 arrests

Anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets of Iran for a second day, with protests being held in a number of cities.

The protesters have been angered by rising prices and corruption.

Large numbers have reportedly gathered in the western city of Kermanshah, with a smaller demonstration in the southern city of Shiraz.

The biggest protest on Thursday was in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, where there were 52 arrests.

There have been calls on social media for protests up and down the country, despite warnings from the government against illegal gatherings.

The governor-general of the capital, Tehran, said no permits had been issued for public demonstrations.

He said such gatherings would be firmly dealt with by the police, who are out in force on main intersections.

Videos posted on social media purport to show clashes between security forces and some demonstrators in Kermanshah on Friday.

‘Harsh slogans’

A number of cities in north-eastern Iran held protests on Thursday. They started with anger at the inability of the government of President Hassan Rouhani to control prices – the cost of eggs has doubled in a week.

However, some developed into broader anti-government protests, calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to police beatings.

Iran map showing Kermanshah in the west, Mashhad in the north-east and Shiraz in the south

There were also chants in Mashhad of “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran”, a reference to what protesters say is the administration’s focus on foreign policy rather than domestic issues.

The arrests in Mashhad were for chanting “harsh slogans”, officials said.


‘Seething discontent’

Analysis by Kasra Naji, BBC Persian

The demonstrations have taken the Iranian authorities by surprise. Impromptu anti-government demonstrations are rare in a country where the Revolutionary Guard and numerous intelligence agencies have a strong grip on the population.

Predictably they are blaming anti-revolutionary elements and foreign agents. But the protests clearly stem from seething discontent in Iran, mainly because of the worsening economic conditions faced by ordinary Iranians.

A BBC Persian investigation has found that Iranians, on average, have become 30% poorer in the past ten years alone.

Many believe Iranian leaders are spending money that should be used to improve their lot on war efforts abroad. Billions are also being spent on spreading religious propaganda and Shia Islam around the world.

But it seems that the hardliners opposed to President Rouhani may have triggered the unrest by holding a demonstration that quickly grew out of control and spread to cities and towns across the country.


The head of Mashhad’s revolutionary court, Hossein Heidari, said: “We consider protest to be the people’s right but if some people want to abuse these emotions and ride this wave, we won’t wait and will confront them.”

President Rouhani promised that the deal he signed with world powers in 2015, which saw Iran limit its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of international sanctions, would boost economic growth.

The economy has risen out of recession and inflation has been reduced, but businesses are still struggling from a lack of investment and the official unemployment rate is 12.4%.

Hassan Rouhani, 10 December, Tehran
President Hassan Rouhani continues to be dogged by economic problems. AFP
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Iran cleric urges tough action after price protests turn political — Anti-government protests in Iran — “Death to Rouhani”

December 29, 2017

 

Iranian cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda delivers speech during a conservatives campaign gathering in Tehran February 24, 2016. (Reuters)

DUBAI: A top cleric in Iran’s second largest city of Mashhad called for tough action by security forces after hundreds of people took to the streets to protest against high prices and shouted anti-government slogans, state news agency IRNA said on Friday.

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Police arrested 52 people in Thursday’s protests, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted a judicial official as saying in Mashhad, one of the holiest places in Shiite Islam.
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Political protests are rare in Iran. But demonstrations are often held by workers over layoffs or non-payment of salaries and people who hold deposits in non-regulated bankrupt financial institutions.
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“If the security and law enforcement agencies leave the rioters to themselves, enemies will publish films and pictures in their media and say that the Islamic Republic system has lost its revolutionary base in Mashhad,” IRNA quoted prominent conservative cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda as saying.
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Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting “Death to (President Hassan) Rouhani” and “Death to the dictator.” Protests were also held in at least two other northeastern cities.
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Alamolhoda, the representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in northeastern Mashhad, said a few people had taken advantage of Thursday’s protests against rising prices to raise slogans against Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts.
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Some Iranians now say too much is spent on the military and in foreign exploits
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“Some people had came to express their demands, but suddenly, in a crowd of hundreds, a small group that did not exceed 50, shouted deviant and horrendous slogans such as ‘Let go of Palestine’, ‘Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I’d give my life for Iran’,” Alamolhoda said.
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Videos on social media also showed demonstrators chanting “Leave Syria, think about us”, criticizing Iran’s military and financial support for President Bashar Assad who is fighting opponents of the government in Syria’s six-year-old civil war.
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Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a close Rouhani ally, suggested that hard-line opponents of the president may have started the protests.
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“When a social and political movement is launched on the streets, those who started it will not necessarily be able to control it in the end,” IRNA quoted Jahangiri as saying. “Those who are behind such events will burn their own fingers. They think they will hurt the government by doing so.”
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Rouhani’s signature achievement, a deal in 2015 with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting most international sanctions, has yet to bring the broad economic benefits the government says are coming.
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Unemployment stood at 12.4 percent in this fiscal year, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, up 1.4 percent from the previous year. About 3.2 million Iranians are jobless, out of a total population of 80 million.
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Mashhad governor Mohammad Rahim Norouzian was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying that “the demonstration was illegal but the police dealt with people with tolerance.”
Videos posted on social media showed riot police using water cannon and tear gas to disperse crowds.
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Norouzian was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA that the protests were organized by “enemies of the Islamic Republic” and “counter-revolutionaries.”
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Political protests of national significance took place most recently in 2009 when Mahmoud Amadinejad’s re-election as president ignited an eight-month firestorm of street demonstrations. His pro-reform rivals said the vote was rigged.
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Related:
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Iranians March Against Corruption — Anti-corruption protests spread from Tehran to other Iranian cities — “Death to Rouhani”

December 28, 2017

Rallies against corruption in high places spread Thursday from Tehran to sweep up an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 more demonstrators in Mashhad, Urmia near the Turkish border and Arak between Tehran and Isfahan. DEBKAfile, reporting on the rising wave of Iranian popular protest, noted that they are becoming increasingly political. Placards were calling “Death to Rouhani” and groups shouted in chorus: “No to Syria! No to Lebanon! No to Gaza!” and “Corruption is everywhere!” In Mashhad, demonstrators gathered outside the residence of supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s favorite for president, Ebrahim Raisi, who heads the Astan Quds Razavi, Khamenei’s personal financial organ.

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The anti-corruption protests first erupted in the capital, Tehran, outside Khamenei’s residence, with the slogan on placards asking, “Where is the money?” It was a reference to the vast sums released to Iran by the Obama administration for signing the 2015 nuclear accord. The government clamped gag orders on the event and ordered the large numbers of Revolutionary Guards officers mobilized to act with restraint and refrain from making arrests. The protests then began spreading.

https://www.debka.com/anti-corruption-protests-spread-tehran-iranian-cities/

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The Associated Press and Haaretz

‘Down with Rohani,’ protesters reportedly chant, marching in at least four cities across Iran; report claims internet and phones cut to Mashhad

Haaretz and The Associated Press Dec 28, 2017 8:14 PM
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Two Iranian synagogues in Shiraz vandalized over 24 hours

Iranians angry over rising food prices and inflation protested in the country’s second-largest city and other areas Thursday, putting new pressure on President Hassan Rouhani as his signature nuclear deal with world powers remains in peril.

To really understand the Middle East – subscribe to Haaretz

The protests in Mashhad saw police make an unspecified number of arrests, local authorities said, though the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates did not intervene as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since Iran’s disputed 2009 election.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many people took part in Thursday’s protests, though social media posts suggest several thousand likely demonstrated at rallies across at least three other cities.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted the governor of the northeastern city of Mashhad, Mohammad Rahim Norouzian, as saying there was an illegal “No to high prices” gathering in the city. “Police gave them the necessary notifications and confronted them with great tolerance,” he said.

 

Videos from a channel on the encrypted Telegram app showed people in Mashhad even chanting “Death to Rouhani,” AFP reported, and Babek Taghvaee, an independent journalist, tweeted a video of protesters chanting the “Islamic revolution was our mistake.”

Taghvaee also reported that internet and telephone access to the area was also cut.

The prices of several staples, including eggs, have risen by up to 40 percent in recent days, with farmers blaming the hikes on higher prices for imported feed. Poultry is an important part of the diet of many of Iran’s 80 million people, and previous price increases have caused political problems for its leaders in the years since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

So has inflation, which Iran’s Central Bank says has returned to 10 percent. Youth unemployment remains high.

Tempers rose further after Rouhani submitted his 2018 budget to parliament, which raises departure taxes for those flying out of the country.

All this comes as the U.S. Congress weighs President Donald Trump’s refusal to re-certify the nuclear deal. Many Iranians now say they agree with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s repeated warnings the U.S. can’t be trusted.

Khamenei also has kept up his criticism of how Rouhani’s administration has handled the economy, which includes the supreme leader’s opposition to allowing foreign firms to fully enter Iran. The Revolutionary Guard, a hard-line paramilitary organization, has vast economic interests in the country.

The Guard did not mobilize its Basij volunteer forces to counter any of the protests Thursday. However, some protests saw criticism of Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war, in which the Guard has played a major role.

read more: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/iran/1.831803

Iran: President Rouhani Wins Re-election — “We will break all the sanctions against Iran.”

May 20, 2017

DUBAI — Iran’s state television congratulated President Hassan Rouhani for winning a re-election by handing an emphatic defeat to his hardline rival Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani won 22.8 million votes in Friday’s hard-fought contest, compared to 15.5 million for Raisi, with 38.9 million votes counted, the Interior Ministry said, adding more votes were still to be tallied.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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Rouhani Wins Re-election in Iran by a Wide Margin

TEHRAN — Riding a large turnout from Iran’s urban middle classes, President Hassan Rouhani won re-election in a landslide on Saturday, giving him a mandate to continue his quest to expand personal freedoms and open Iran’s ailing economy to global investors.

Perhaps as important, analysts say, the resounding victory should enable him to strengthen the position of the moderate and reformist faction as the country prepares for the end of the rule of the 78-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

With most of the votes from Friday’s election counted, the Interior Ministry said Mr. Rouhani had won 22.8 million, soundly defeating his chief opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, who received 15.5 million. Iranian state television congratulated Mr. Rouhani on his victory.

Turnout was heavy, with about 40 million of Iran’s 56 million voters, more than 70 percent, casting ballots.

Despite the healthy margin of victory, Mr. Rouhani, 68, will face considerable headwinds, both at home and abroad, as he embarks on his second term.

He badly needs to demonstrate progress on overhauling the moribund economy. While he accomplished his goal of reaching a nuclear agreement with the United States and Western powers in his first term, that has not translated into the economic revival he predicted because of lingering American sanctions.

He must also deal with an unpredictable and hawkish Trump administration that this week only reluctantly signed the sanctions waivers that are a central element of the nuclear agreement. At a summit meeting this weekend in Saudi Arabia between President Trump and leaders of predominantly Muslim countries, Iran was pointedly not invited.

The Trump administration’s national security officials are on record as considering Iran the source of most of the Middle East’s troubles, while the Republican-controlled Congress is not about to loosen the unilateral sanctions that are frightening off foreign banks and businesses.

Mr. Rouhani, who has managed to mend ties with the European Union, is undaunted, saying only last week that, “We will break all the sanctions against Iran.”

He has some cards to play with the United States. Iran provides crucial support to the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Iraq — an American ally — and any effort to roll back Iranian influence there and in Syria could jeopardize efforts to retake the cities of Mosul and Raqqa from the Islamic State extremist group.

Mr. Raisi, a hard-line judge who leads one of the wealthiest religious foundations in the Middle East, campaigned as a corruption fighter and called on Iran to solve its economic problems without help from foreigners. He appealed primarily to poor and deeply religious Iranians, many of whom felt left out of Mr. Rouhani’s vision for the future.

While he was soundly beaten, analysts said Mr. Raisi fared well enough to maintain his status as a potential successor to Ayatollah Khamenei.

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Iranians lined up on Friday in Qum to cast their ballots in municipal and presidential elections. Voting hours had to be extended. CreditAli Shaigan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In defeating Mr. Raisi, Mr. Rouhani proved once again that Iran’s electorate prefers the moderate reformist path over the rigid ideology and harsh social restrictions favored by the conservative clergy and security establishment.

Despite controlling most unelected councils, the conservative clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders — backed by state television — have suffered a string of political defeats, starting with Mr. Rouhani’s election in 2013. That led to direct talks with their archenemy, the United States, and ultimately to the nuclear deal, which they opposed. Then moderate and reformist candidates made strong gains in last year’s parliamentary elections.

Nevertheless, as supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei remains the ultimate arbiter in Iran’s opaque political system, and he must approve any further changes sought by Mr. Rouhani.

Yet, the supreme leader has demonstrated a surprising flexibility in recent years. While he publicly defends the hard-liners, he has permitted Mr. Rouhani to break some decades-old ideological canons when public pressures grow too intense.

Source:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/20/world/middleeast/iran-election-hassan-rouhani.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-1&action=click&contentCollection=Middle%20East&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article

Read the rest:

Iran’s Election — Friday’s Election Could Change the Middle East for Years to Come

May 18, 2017

Iranians will go to the polls on Friday with the economy, diplomacy and inequality on their minds. They may also be laying the groundwork for who succeeds Ayatollah Khamenei as supreme leader

Ebrahim Raisi
Ebrahim Raisi salutes his supporters at a rally in Tehran. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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By  in Tehran
The Guardian

As Tehran’s notorious traffic slowed, the waiting campaigners pounced, pushing posters with the smiling face of Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, through the open windows of trapped cars, pleading for votes and shouting slogans as drivers edged away.

They were determined to make every minute count in the last days of a campaign in which Rouhani began as favourite, but has ended locked in a bitter and close-run fight with a conservative rival.

The short-term stakes of Friday’s election are high: the future of 2015’s landmark nuclear deal and Iran’s cautious rapprochement with the west; the direction of its economy; control of its oilfields; and the freedom given to dissent.

In the long term, the election could decide an even more crucial political battle –that for Iran’s next supreme leader. The successor to ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamanei will be the most powerful person in Iran, and only the third person to lead the Islamic republic since its foundation.

Rouhani’s main opponent in Friday’s ballot is the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi. The 56-year-old, who spent most of his career as a lawyer and judicial official, was a relative unknown when he entered the race, and is considered uncharismatic by even his own supporters.

170515_abrams_raisi_getty.jpg

Ebrahim Raisi at a rally in Tehran.  Getty

However, he has consolidated the support of hardliners worried that religious values are under assault, and stirred up populist anger about Iran’s feeble economy.

His slogans echo the anti-establishment sentiment that fuelled Donald Trump’s rise to the White House. With slender economic growth, more than one in four young people out of work, and cuts to government subsidies, many people feel abandoned or betrayed.

.Posters of Iran’s incumbent president Hassan Rouhani are plastered around Tehran.

Pinterest
Posters of Iran’s incumbent president Hassan Rouhani are plastered around Tehran. Photograph: Tima Agency/Reuters

“We don’t want government by the 4%,” Raisi supporters shouted at his most recent Tehran rally, where thousands of devotees packed out a prayer hall and conference centre waving Iranian flags and red roses, his campaign symbol.

Raisi may cast his net wider than Trump in claiming a government “by the 4%”, but the anger of his supporters at the inequality in Iran would be familiar to those who covered the US president’s campaign, and is the driving force of his popularity. “Rouhani can’t provide equality between rich and poor,” said Hajar Pakyari, a biology professor at Islamic Azad University, who was at the Tehran rally with colleagues.

The nuclear deal that was Rouhani’s headline achievement is still popular across the Iranian political spectrum, but it failed to bring the immediate economic benefits that many expected, and that Rouhani’s team hoped would carry him to a second term.

That left an opening for Raisi to attack Rouhani’s subsequent engagement with the west, appealing to conservatives who remain uneasy about Iran’s efforts to court its old enemies.

“I personally believe and support ideas that trust the capabilities of the people inside Iran,” said Mohammed-Taghi Ansari-Pur, a professor at the University of Religions and Denominations in the city of Qom. “I believe that we can solve our problems inside Iran. I do not favour those who depend on outside countries.”

The economy, the fate of the nuclear deal, and questions of reform are significant enough issues to make this an intense election. But the fact that the next president could hold the key to the ultimate controller of Iran for a generation – the supreme leader – ratchets up the pressure.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is 78 and believed to be suffering from ill health.
Pinterest
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is 78 and believed to be suffering from ill health. Photograph: Reuters

“We are not voting for the next four years – we are voting for the next 40 years,” said one young Rouhani supporter.

While few in Iran are willing to openly discuss who might follow the incumbent, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 78 years old and widely believed to have received treatment for prostate cancer. Raisi is one of a handful of names talked about as a potential successor.

When he entered the presidential campaign, many thought Raisi merely wanted to raise his public profile for that showdown, and would drop out in the final days to support a fellow conservative, a relatively common tactic in Iran.

Instead, other hardliners dropped out to support him. This raises the stakes for Raisi and his team, because a loss in this election would badly damage his hopes of becoming supreme leader.

Although democracy’s reach within Iran is limited by the supreme leader and a network of powerful bodies – such as the Guardian Council, which vets candidates for elections – popular legitimacy is still extremely important to the leadership.

Read the rest:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/18/iran-election-president-rouhani-raisi-khamenei

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Iran election: Why it’s important to the U.S.

Iran chooses a new leader Friday, with moderate President Hassan Rouhani seeking a second term and facing hard-line conservatives who criticize the landmark nuclear deal with the West.

The result could have far-reaching diplomatic implications, especially since President Trump has threatened to dismantle the nuclear accord he called “the worst deal in history.” Last month, Trump ordered a review of the 2015 agreement.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration extended the sanctions relief granted under the nuclear deal, but also imposed new economic penalties over Iranian ballistic missile activity. Both moves intend to show the Trump administration as being tough on Iran as it adheres to the nuclear deal for now. The new sanctions target Iranian military officials and others accused of supplying materials for ballistic missiles.

Rouhani, 68, whose administration brokered the nuclear deal with world powers, is campaigning with the promise of more social freedoms and is favored to win.

His main challenger is Ebrahim Raisi, 56, a cleric with close ties to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Raisi has vowed to create millions of jobs, give generous cash handouts to Iran’s poorest and fix the nation’s troubled economy and its 12.7% unemployment rate. He said the jobs, growth and foreign investment that Rouhani promised as a result of the nuclear deal have not trickled down to ordinary Iranians.

“Rouhani promised all the sanctions would be lifted, but where is the change on the people’s tables?” Raisi said in a televised campaign debate this month.

“The country is facing an economic crisis, with unemployment, recession and inflation. A tree that has not borne any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future,” Tehran’s hard-line Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said in the debate. He dropped out of the race this week.

Rouhani, a career diplomat educated in the United Kingdom, has consistently asked for patience in solving Iran’s problems.

Friday’s election could be a tight contest, with the possibility of a runoff if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. Results are due as early as Saturday.

“Rouhani came to power four years ago telling people that the nuclear negotiation would be successful and that sanctions would be removed,” said Seyed Ali Alavi, an expert on Iranian affairs at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “Trump’s questioning of the deal has undermined Rouhani’s position.”

About 56 million people out of a population of 80 million are eligible to vote. Turnout will likely exceed 70%.

More than 1,600 people applied to run for president, including 137 women, but the field has narrowed to just a handful — all men.

Every Iranian president since 1981 has won re-election under the system that requires candidates to be vetted by a clerical body that answers to the supreme leader. Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after a monarchy backed by the United States was overthrown by religious leaders.

While Iran’s presidential powers to set domestic and foreign policy are limited, the election is democratic even if it does not entirely resemble the democracy practiced in the West.

In a televised speech Wednesday, Khamenei urged for a high turnout so voters send a message to the United States and its allies, including Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him the “pathetic prime minister of the Zionist regime.”

Khamenei described the election as a “great popular epic,” and while the Middle East region is “drowned in anxiety,” Iran was “peacefully and safely holding an election.”

Nasser Hadian, a professor of political science at Tehran University who backs Rouhani, said if Raisi wins he would likely keep the nuclear accord but take a much harder stance than Rouhani in demanding that economic sanctions be fully relaxed.

Since the agreement, Iran has been permitted to export oil to key markets and sign billion-dollar deals to update its aging commercial airline fleet. A freeze remains on banking and financial services.

“Raisi knows that the deal is popular with most Iranians, that’s why he’s saying he will stick with it,” Hadian said. “He will just implement it more vigorously, meaning the other side (the West) needs to deliver on its promises. No matter what Trump says, and whether it’s Rouhani or Raisi, both of them will abide by it.”

Shadi Behzad, 22, from Tehran, is a Rouhani supporter studying business management. She said she decided to vote after watching the debates and believes the incumbent has helped lower the cost of health care and other necessities.

“I worry the situation will not get better in Iran if he does not win,” she said.

But Abolfazl Zarei, 21, a Tehran student who is studying English, said Raisi was the better choice.

“Diplomacy is important, but we should not give more value to foreign countries than to our own people,” he said.

Contributing: Farhad Babaei in Tehran

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/05/17/iran-presidential-election-hassan-rouhani/101742776/

All Eyes On Iran For Friday’s Election — Religious Hard-liner Mounts Challenge to Rouhani — Iran’s Presidential Race

May 17, 2017

Voters choose Friday between candidates with conflicting visions—President Hassan Rouhani, who has made an opening to the West, and a political newcomer wary of where such a path leads

Posters of Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric, being passed out in April in Tehran. Credit Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

Updated May 17, 2017 12:04 p.m. ET

TEHRAN—President Hassan Rouhani faces a hard-line opponent in a national vote Friday that is shaping up as one of the most contentious and consequential elections since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

The contest puts before Iranian voters two candidates with conflicting visions for the country—Mr. Rouhani, who has made an opening to the West, and a political newcomer wary of where such a path leads.

Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old cleric with close ties to Iran’s supreme leader, has emerged as a tougher-than-expected challenger, taking advantage of economic troubles and railing during campaign rallies against inefficient government and its failure to address corruption.

Mr. Raisi, supported by Iran’s hard-line establishment, has used his campaign to criticize the signature accomplishment of Mr. Rouhani’s first term: the 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, including the U.S. The agreement lifted most economic sanctions and expanded oil exports.

The Obama administration pushed the nuclear deal, in part, because it believed the lifting of sanctions would allow Iran to eventually moderate its domestic and foreign policies, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The Trump administration has shifted U.S. rhetoric and imposed new sanctions on Iran that target entities involved in Tehran’s ballistic missile program and alleged human-rights abuses. It sees the election as a gauge of Tehran’s future policies, but its antipathy toward Iran is unlikely to change regardless of who wins, a senior Trump administration official said.

Lifting Sanctions on Iran

President Hassan Rouhani, seeking a second term in elections Friday, faces a hard-line opponent who has criticized Mr. Rouhani’s signature achievement: the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted most economic sanctions and boosted oil exports. Mr. Rouhani’s popularity has ebbed among voters who say they haven’t seen the economic benefits.

Mr. Rouhani has during rallies referenced, though never directly, Mr. Raisi’s alleged connections with Iran’s deadly 1988 purges as a longtime member of the judiciary. He told a packed stadium in western Iran this month that voters wouldn’t support candidates who “executed and jailed” fellow citizens.

Mr. Raisi hasn’t addressed Mr. Rouhani’s comments in interviews or speeches. A judiciary spokesman, responding to Mr. Rouhani’s mention of executions, said Tuesday that Iran’s judiciary has helped fight against terrorism.

“My record is that I was a soldier for this country,” Mr. Raisi said Tuesday at a rally in Tehran. “My past was to push away the sinister shadow of terrorists from the country.”

Until recently, the election appeared an easy win for Mr. Rouhani, who is seeking a second four-year term. But his popularity has ebbed since last year as Iranians failed to see economic benefits from the nuclear deal, polls show.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani waves to supporters at a campaign rally this month in Tehran.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani waves to supporters at a campaign rally this month in Tehran. PHOTO: EBRAHIM NOROOZI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The situation hasn’t been good in these four years,” said Ali Arjomandi, a 26-year-old medical student who attended a recent rally for Mr. Raisi.

Mr. Rouhani’s support among likely voters was around 61%, according to the most recent polls by Washington-based International Perspectives for Public Opinion; Mr. Raisi was at 27% after Tehran Mayor Mohammad Ghalibaf dropped from the race and gave his support to Mr. Raisi.

Iran’s hard-line factions have coalesced around Mr. Raisi, sending him to the campaign trail after a career spent behind the scenes.

Mr. Raisi has promised to create a million jobs a year, address a nearly 13% unemployment rate and revive financially troubled housing projects for the poor. His campaign message mirrors former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s in speeches that mix religion, politics and economics.

“In my childhood, I experienced the taste of poverty,” he said in a TV interview last month. “Being an orphan, I worked as child and a teenager, and I know how the deprived feel because I experienced it firsthand.”

Religious pride

A victory by Mr. Raisi would bolster his chances to succeed Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who served two terms as president in the 1980s, analysts said. The supreme leader decides most matters of state, while the president manages policy and serves as Iran’s face to the world.

Few doubt Mr. Khamenei, 77 years old, is behind Mr. Raisi’s rise. In recent speeches, Mr. Khamenei has been critical of Mr. Rouhani’s economic management, a view echoed by Iran’s hard-line media outlets.

Mr. Khamenei appointed Mr. Raisi last year to oversee the Astan Quds Razavi, a charity worth billions of dollars that is central to state-controlled manufacturing and real-estate enterprises under Mr. Khamenei’s control.

Some analysts aren’t convinced Mr. Khamenei is wedded to Mr. Raisi as a successor. “It may be that he’s a contender and Khamenei wants to take him out for a test ride,” said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Iranian conservative presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a campaign this month in Tehran. The election is Friday.
Iranian conservative presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a campaign this month in Tehran. The election is Friday. PHOTO: ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
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At rallies, Mr. Raisi voices a message similar to Mr. Khamenei’s, one that opposes dissent and appeals to emotions triggered by religious pride and Iran’s perceived loss of prestige. It is a view associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an economic and military force that owns monopolistic companies and leads Iran’s forces in Syria and Iraq.

Iran is the main Shiite power in the region—where Shiites are outnumbered by Sunni Muslim countries, led by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf neighbors, most of which are close U.S. allies. These Sunni nations have increasingly battled against what they view as Iranian meddling—and what Iran sees as its role helping suppressed Shiites.

Iran’s strategy, which has put it in conflict with the West, is carried out by the power Mr. Raisi is closest to—Mr. Khamenei and his inner circle, including the Revolutionary Guard.

Mr. Rouhani, 68 years old, is a regime loyalist, but he represents a more technocratic approach to governing that appeals to younger, wealthier and better-educated Iranians. Many in Iran were born after the revolution. Some want to move past the fervor that drove out the shah, triggered the 444-day hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy and frayed ties between the countries.

If Mr. Raisi wins, Iran’s foreign policy would likely break from the Rouhani-led engagement that yielded Iran’s agreement to put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. A victory by Mr. Raisi also could change Iran’s view on foreign investment. Western companies, including Boeing Co. , have made billions of dollars in sales to Iran since the nuclear agreement.

“Raisi appears to be much more in line with traditional hard-line Iranian thinking about the economy, namely, that integration with the West is costly, and comes with strings attached,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Washington-based Foundation For Defense of Democracies.

Mr. Raisi has promised to abide by the deal. But he might not be willing or able to persuade the Revolutionary Guard—which sees foreign competition as a threat to its economic power—give up any market share, Mr. Taleblu said.

From left to right, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry at al news conference in Vienna following agreement on Iran’s nuclear deal on July 14, 2015.
From left to right, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry at al news conference in Vienna following agreement on Iran’s nuclear deal on July 14, 2015. PHOTO: IMAGO/ZUMA PRESS
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Mr. Rouhani has been blunt in his critique of the Revolutionary Guard. During the final presidential debate, he criticized the test-firing of a ballistic missile that carried the slogan, “Israel should be wiped off the Earth,” soon after the nuclear deal took effect last year. He said at a rally that monopolies weren’t good for Iran, a veiled reference to the Revolutionary Guard.

“We are at the edge of a great historical decision,” Mr. Rouhani told supporters at a rally Saturday in Tehran. “Our nation this week will announce whether we return to 2012 or head to 2021, if it continues on the path of peacefulness or if it will choose tension.”

Differences between the two candidates stood out during Iran’s three live TV debates. The first exposed Mr. Raisi’s inexperience; he went on the attack in the last two. Mr. Rouhani mostly appeared polished, although criticism from hard-line candidates in the first debate seemed to put him off-balance.

Some voters welcome Mr. Raisi’s promise to increase cash handouts despite strains on the government’s budget. “We want him to save us from hunger and misery,” said Ahmad, age 43, a father of five who works in a bakery. “What will my sons will do when they grow up? I want them to be able to earn money and get married and have children.”

Up the ranks

Mr. Raisi rose through clerical and judicial institutions. In the 1970s, he became a devotee of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, while studying in Qom, home to Shiite Islam’s most influential seminaries.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mr. Raisi became a member of the ruling clique, and in 1980 he began a decadeslong judicial career with his appointment as the assistant public prosecutor in Karaj, west of Tehran.

At age 23, Mr. Raisi reinforced his establishment ties by marrying the daughter of cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda, a close ally of Mr. Khamenei, the current supreme leader. The couple have two daughters. In the 1980s, Mr. Raisi became the deputy to the prosecutor in Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary court, a special judicial system known for handling politically sensitive cases.

In July of 1988, after eight destructive years of war with Iraq, Mr. Khomeini ordered that political prisoners be questioned by three-member panels made up of a cleric, prosecutor and intelligence official. Any prisoner who professed allegiance to the banned opposition groups was executed, according to international human-rights groups.

Thousands of people were believed killed, these groups say, although the precise number is unknown. Tehran has long denied any such executions.

Mr. Raisi sometimes stood in as a prosecutor on a three-member panel with a religious judge and an intelligence ministry official, according to a report by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a human-rights group based in Washington, D.C. Mr. Raisi hasn’t responded to the report.

Iranian presidential hopeful Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a mosque in southern Tehran in April.
Iranian presidential hopeful Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a mosque in southern Tehran in April. PHOTO: AHID SALEMI)/SSOCIATED PRESS
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After Mr. Khamenei became Iran’s supreme leader in 1989, Mr. Raisi’s career began to advance. He became head of the judiciary’s General Inspection Organization in 1994 and, a decade later, the first deputy head of the judiciary.

Mr. Raisi’s best chance at beating Mr. Rouhani may come if hard-line organizers can get out the rural vote, which accounts for about 20% of the population and tends to vote conservative, said Mr. Kupchan, of the Eurasia Group.

If Mr. Rouhani wins, as most expect, he may be weakened by his public criticism of the Republican Guard and indirect references to the 1988 executions.

“He’s the guy who attacked some of the core values of the Islamic Republic by airing dirty laundry,” said Ray Takeyh, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “That creates problems for him in the next four years.”

Mr. Khamenei said as the election approached that anyone who disrupts state security “should know that they will definitely be slapped in the face,” a message that unrest won’t be tolerated.

In 2009, Iranians demonstrated against the re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, and authorities arrested thousands of people who were led by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mr. Mousavi remains under house arrest.

Mr. Raisi, who was deputy head of the judiciary, promised at the time that those arrested would be dealt with “in a way that will teach them a lesson,” according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Write to Asa Fitch at asa.fitch@wsj.com

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Ebrahim Raisi: hardline challenger in Iran — Vowing to triple cash hand-outs to the poor — Calls for a much tougher line “in the face of the enemy”

May 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi looks on during a campaign rally in the capital Tehran on April 29, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) – Ebrahim Raisi, the leading rival to President Hassan Rouhani in Friday’s presidential election, is a hardline judge with close ties to the supreme leader who spent years in powerful backroom positions.

Born into a religious family in the holy city of Mashhad on August 23, 1960, Raisi wears the black turban of a “seyed” whose genealogy is said to lead back to Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.

In public, he has an austere charisma, and is surrounded by an entourage with ties to the Islamic regime’s most hardline elements.

He has focused his campaign on the poor, brandishing his credentials as the head of the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, which is also a powerful and hugely wealthy charitable foundation.

“I represent the workers, the farmers, the impoverished women,” he says, vowing to triple cash hand-outs.

It is a message that has fallen on fertile ground at a time when unemployment is at least 12.5 percent and almost everyone is feeling the stagnation of the economy.

He does not oppose the nuclear deal signed with world powers in 2015, which lifted sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s atomic programme.

But he says the current government’s negotiating efforts were “weak” and called for a much tougher line “in the face of the enemy“.

There is little chance Raisi will ease social restrictions or release opposition leaders held under house arrest since the 2009 protest movement, known to conservatives as “the sedition”.

“Those who sympathise with the heads of sedition must know that the great nation of Iran will never forgive this great injustice,” he said in 2014.

– A revolutionary life –

Raisi is entrenched in the conservative establishment, having served as attorney general, supervisor of state broadcaster IRIB and prosecutor in the Special Court for Clerics.

His father-in-law leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and both have seats on the Assembly of Experts that will choose the next supreme leader — a position for which Raisi himself is often rumoured to be in the running.

Raisi’s father died when he was five, and he entered the seminary at an early age, excelling in his studies and moving to the seat of clerical learning in Qom in 1975.

After the 1979 revolution, he was selected for special training by the clerical establishment and studied under Ali Khamenei, who would later become supreme leader.

In 1985, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war, he became deputy prosecutor at the Revolutionary Court of Tehran that would oversee the execution of thousands of political prisoners.

After serving in a series of increasingly powerful judicial posts, Raisi was appointed in March 2016 by Khamenei to head the Imam Reza shrine.

Known as Astan Qods Razavi, it runs Iran’s holiest shrine as well as a huge business conglomerate with interests in everything from IT and banking to construction and agriculture.

Iran’s Re-engagement With the World at Stake in Friday Presidential Vote

May 16, 2017

ANKARA — Iranians vote for president on Friday in a contest likely to determine whether Tehran’s re-engagement with the world stalls or quickens, although whatever the outcome no change is expected to its revolutionary system of conservative clerical rule.

Seeking a second term, pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, 68, remains the narrow favourite, but hardline rivals have hammered him over his failure to boost an economy weakened by decades of sanctions.

Many Iranians feel a 2015 agreement he championed with major powers to lift sanctions in return for curbing Iran’s nuclear programme has failed to produce the jobs, growth and foreign investment he said would follow.

The normally mild-mannered cleric is trying to hold on to office by firing up reformist voters who want less confrontation abroad and more social and economic freedom at home.

In recent days he has adopted robust rhetoric, pushing at the boundaries of what is permitted in Iran. He has accused his conservative opponents of abusing human rights, misusing religious authority to gain power and representing the economic interests of the security forces.

Rouhani’s strongest challenger is hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who says Iran does not need foreign help and promises a revival of the values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Image result for Raisi, Iran

Ebrahim Raisi

He is backed by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, the country’s top security force, their affiliated volunteer Basij militia, hardline clerics and two influential clerical groups.

Another prominent conservative, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, withdrew from the race on Monday and backed Raisi, uniting the hardline faction and giving Raisi’s chances a boost.

Under Iran’s system, the powers of the elected president are circumscribed by those of the conservative supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989. All candidates must be vetted by a hardline body.

Image result for supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Nevertheless, elections are fiercely contested and can bring about change within the system of rule overseen by Shi’ite Muslim clerics.

CLOSE ALLY

The main challenger Raisi is a close ally and protege of Khamenei, and was one of four Islamic judges who ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Iranian media have discussed him as a potential future successor to Khamenei, who turns 78 in July.

Raisi has appealed to poorer voters by pledging to create millions of jobs.

“Though unrealistic, such promises will surely attract millions of poor voters,” said Saeed Leylaz, a prominent Iranian economist who was jailed for criticising the economic policies of Rouhani’s hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although the supreme leader is officially above the fray of everyday politics, Khamenei can sway a presidential vote by giving a candidate his quiet endorsement, a move that could galvanise hardline efforts to get the conservative vote out.

“Raisi has a good chance to win. But still the result depends on the leader Khamenei’s decision,” said a former senior official, who declined to be identified.

So far in public Khamenei has called only for a high turnout, saying Iran’s enemies have sought to use the elections to “infiltrate” its power structure, and a high turnout would prove the system’s legitimacy.

A high turnout could also boost the chances of Rouhani, who was swept to power in 2013 on promises to reduce Iran’s international isolation and grant more freedoms at home. The biggest threat to his re-election is apathy from disappointed voters who feel he did not deliver improvements they hoped for.

“The result depends on whether the economic problems will prevail over freedom issues,” said an official close to Rouhani. “A low turnout can harm Rouhani.”

Polls taken by International Perspectives for Public Opinion on May 10 show Rouhani still leads with about 55 percent of the votes, although such surveys do not have an established record of predicting election outcomes in Iran.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes cast, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election on May 26.

Because the conservatives are now mostly united behind Raisi, the result is likely to be closer than four years ago, when Rouhani won more than three times as many votes as his closest challenger en route to a victory in a single round.

SLOW PACE OF CHANGE

Opposition and reformist figures are backing Rouhani, and his recent fiery campaign speeches have led to a surge of public interest. But voters’ expectations of radical change are low.

“I had decided not to vote … Rouhani failed to keep his promises. As long as Khamenei runs policy, nothing will change,” said art student Raika Mostashari in Tehran.

But she eventually decided to vote for Rouhani, she said, because former president Mohammad Khatami, spiritual leader of the pro-reform movement, had publicly backed him.

Rouhani’s signature accomplishment has been his nuclear deal, which could be in jeopardy if he loses power, even though it was officially endorsed by Khamenei and all candidates say they will abide by it.

U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently called the agreement “one of the worst deals ever signed” and said Washington will review it.

Although the agreement lifted international sanctions, the United States continues to impose unilateral measures that have scared off investors. Washington cites Iran’s missile programme, its human rights record and support for terrorism.

Some experts say Iranian establishment figures may want to keep Rouhani in power to avoid being cast back into isolation.

“With the deal in jeopardy, the system will be in vital need of Rouhani’s team of smiling diplomats and economic technocrats to shift the blame to the U.S. and keep Iran’s economy afloat,” said Iran analyst Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group.

Polls expected to open at 03:30 GMT and close at 13:30 GMT, which can be extended. Final results are expected by Sunday.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

Related:

Iran election campaign kicks off after Ahmadinejad excluded by supreme leader

April 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Eric RANDOLPH and Ali NOORANI | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures to the camera after registering to run for re-election in Tehran on April 14, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) –  Campaigning began on Friday for Iran’s presidential election with incumbent Hassan Rouhani facing a tough battle against hardliners, though not from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was barred from standing.

Ahmadinejad’s disqualification by the conservative-run Guardian Council was no surprise — he had been advised not to run by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said it would “polarise” the nation.

Ahmadinejad’s populist economics and defiant attitude to the establishment had alienated even his hardline backers during his tenure between 2005 and 2013.

“Once the supreme leader had told him not to stand, it became impossible for him to be cleared by the Guardian Council,” said Clement Therme, research fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“By his second term, (Ahmadinejad) was even challenging the clerics. He was not useful anymore for the system.”

The mood in Tehran has been subdued — many are disillusioned with Rouhani’s failure to kick-start the economy despite broad support for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, notably through a nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.

The election commission ruled on Thursday that live TV debates would be banned, without giving a reason — a decision criticised by Rouhani and other candidates.

Campaigning, which the Guardian Council announced could begin immediately, had not been supposed to start for another week, so little activity was expected on Friday.

But experts say the authorities are keen to excite interest in the vote.

“They need that for legitimacy — the turnout is even more important than the result,” said Therme.

Iran’s elections are tightly controlled, with the Guardian Council allowing just six people — and no women — to stand for the May 19 vote out of 1,636 hopefuls that registered last week.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a run-off between the top two is held a week later.

Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, squeaked to victory last time with 51 percent in the first round, helped by a divided conservative camp.

The Guardian Council has resisted efforts by Iran’s parliament, the Majles, to clarify the criteria by which they choose candidates.

The constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution offers only vague guidelines that candidates should possess “administrative capacity and resourcefulness… trustworthiness and piety”.

– Hardline competition –

The build-up to the vote has injected more interest than many predicted just a couple of months ago, when Rouhani was seen as a shoo-in for a second term if only because the conservative opposition seemed unable to offer a strong candidate.

Since then, the 56-year-old former judge and cleric Ebrahim Raisi has emerged as a front-runner for the conservatives.

Little-known on the political scene, Raisi runs a powerful religious foundation and business empire in the holy city of Mashhad and is seen as a close ally of — and possible successor to — supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But despite emphasising his care for the poor, many say Raisi’s hardline judicial background and entourage will turn off voters.

“He seems like a good and calm person himself, but the people around him are scary,” said a tour operator in Yazd, echoing a widely heard sentiment.

Some think he may drop out at the last minute in favour of Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who came second to Rouhani in 2013.

Ghalibaf is a war veteran, former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief — and could be the preferred choice of powerful backroom hardliners.

The other three candidates have been less prominent so far.

They include two moderate reformists, Mostafa Hashemitaba and vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, and a veteran hardliner Mostafa Mirsalim — a selection that appears designed to give an even balance to moderates and hardliners in the upcoming debates.

– ‘Took risks’ –

There were mixed reactions to Ahmadinejad’s disqualification.

Despite controversial rhetoric against Israel that worsened ties with the West, and somewhat reckless financial management, he retained considerable popularity, particularly among the poor.

“I think Ahmadinejad should not have been disqualified,” said Mohammad Barkhordar, 20, doing his military service.

“He was the kind of president that took risks, like distributing money among people and giving houses to the poor, and he had big ambitions for Iran’s nuclear programme. Rouhani doesn’t take any risks.”

But many were glad to see the back of him.

“It was right for Ahmadinejad to be disqualified but it happened 12 years too late,” said one Twitter user.

by Eric RANDOLPH and Ali NOORANI

What would hard-liner Raisi mean for Iran and the world?

April 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Eric Randolph and Ali Noorani | Iranian cleric Ebrahim Raisi announced his candidacy for next month’s presidential vote on Friday
TEHRAN (AFP) – Ebrahim Raisi, the leading candidate for Iran’s hardliners in next month’s presidential election, has left many wondering whether the country’s fragile opening to the West could be under threat.The 56-year-old judge and cleric registered on Friday for the May 19 vote and his candidacy is being closely watched by foreign investors and diplomats who fear the return of a hardline administration that could threaten the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and efforts to open up trade.

So far, Raisi has given little indication of his views on foreign policy, keeping his comments vague and predictable.

“Our relations will be ongoing with every country — except the occupying regime of Israel — but on condition of respect,” he said Friday.

Analysts describe Raisi as utterly loyal to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meaning he would likely remain deeply suspicious of engagement with the West but unlikely to backtrack on the nuclear deal, which had the boss’s tacit consent.

“He has no experience in foreign policy, so at least initially he will have to follow the system’s grand strategy of preserving the nuclear deal and shifting any blame of undermining it to the US,” said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group.

– Entrenched conservative –

Raisi is entrenched in the conservative establishment, having served as attorney general, supervisor of state broadcaster IRIB and prosecutor in the Special Court for Clerics.

Press reports indicate he has recently been elevated to the status of “ayatollah”.

His father-in-law leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and both have seats on the Assembly of Experts that will choose the next supreme leader — a position for which Raisi himself is often rumoured to be in the running.

There is little chance he will ease social restrictions or release opposition leaders held under house arrest since the 2009 protest movement, known to conservatives as “the sedition”.

“The Islamic System has treated the heads of the sedition with mercy. Those who sympathise with the heads of sedition must know that the great nation of Iran will never forgive this great injustice,” he said in 2014.

Crucially, Khamenei picked him in March 2016 to head Astan Qods Razavi — the centuries-old foundation that looks after the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad — placing him at the intersection of political, religious and economic power.

The foundation hosts 20 million pilgrims a year at the shrine, and has also developed into a sprawling, multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that runs everything from farms and power plants to brokerages and IT firms.

– Why is he running? –

One big question is why Raisi would risk a run for the presidency if he has ambitions to become supreme leader as many speculate.

“If he loses, his status will be damaged, so it seems like a big risk,” said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

“Moreover, all presidents end up facing criticism from the supreme leader — that’s how the system is set up — so why put himself in that position?”

The presidency could provide a stepping stone to the top — as it was for Khamenei in the 1980s.

“But if he loses to the incumbent, who has no rivals in his own camp and has remarkable executive credentials, Raisi’s future rise to the peak will be in question,” said Vaez.

For now, Raisi has focused on domestic economic issues, playing to the conservative base among poorer, more religious voters.

“Despite four decades of the Islamic system and many promising achievements, people are still suffering chronic problems,” he said when announcing his bid last week.

The 12 percent jobless rate and slow trickle down of benefits from the nuclear deal are seen as Rouhani’s weak spots.

“Raisi’s lifestyle is modest and he regularly stays with the poor sections of society, while Mr Rouhani has more of an aristocratic, comfort-seeking spirit,” said Hamid Reza Taraghi, a member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party.

His opponents are unimpressed.

“Mr Raisi has absolutely no plan to manage the country. Even (former hardline president Mahmud) Ahmadinejad had more experience and he was disastrous for the economy,” said reformist Tehran-based economist Saeed Laylaz.

by Eric Randolph and Ali Noorani