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


Ebrahim Raisi was sworn into office as Iran’s new president on Thursday, consolidating the power of conservatives who now control all branches of the Islamic Republic’s government and are set to pursue 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 had been orchestrated to prevent any credible opponent — particularly 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 the ultimate power.

The inauguration ceremony, at the Parliament in Tehran, took place amid very heavy security and ample pomp, with hundreds of foreign dignitaries arriving in luxury cars, a military band playing the national anthem and the capital city shut down.

Iran’s backing of militant groups around the Middle East and it support of the Syrian government have been a point of contention with neighbors and Western powers. Yet Mr. Raisi struck 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 give up on their rights, including the right to development,” Mr. Raisi said. “The sanctions must be lifted. We will support any diplomatic plan that supports this goal.”

He pledged to get international sanctions lifted, improve ties with neighboring countries and unite his country’s political factions. But Mr. Raisi has not offered a concrete plan to resolve such problems.

See also  Key Afghan City in Danger of Falling to the Taliban

After six rounds of talks in Vienna with world powers that were aimed at reviving the 2015 accord that restricted Iran’s nuclear program, the negotiations are now at a standstill and it is not clear when they might resume.

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

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

International rights groups say that he was part of a four-person committee that ordered the execution of 5,000 political dissidents in 1988. Critics of Iran’s government, including opposition figures and human rights activists, have called for the international community to shun him.

But diplomacy with Iran is not off the table, both the United States and the European Union have said, because the Biden administration and European leaders say that reviving the 2015 nuclear deal remains the best option for curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

After President Donald J. Trump exited the agreement in 2018, Iran has ramped up its uranium enrichment, fueling fears that it could develop a nuclear weapon. The 2015 deal had been reached 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 if the change in government will mean a shift in Tehran’s negotiating stance.

The European Union sent a senior delegation to the inauguration that 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 in attendance, as were leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Some used the opportunity to hold talks with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the ceremony.

See also  Deaths in custody of two brothers fuel anger over Covid enforcement in Kenya.

Mr. Raisi has not officially announced the names of cabinet ministers, but a list leaked to local media indicates that key posts like the foreign, defense, intelligence and interior ministries will be offered to men with deep ties to the intelligence and security apparatus and affiliations with the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps. Mr. Raisi said he would submit his proposed list to Parliament after the inauguration; the Parliament speaker said it would be approved by early next week.

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

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

Mr. Raisi also must contend with the deep discontent of many Iranians who sat out the election 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 largely viewed as engineered by the conservative religious establishment, particularly Mr. Khamenei.

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

See also  Facebook reaffirms a ban on Taliban accounts even as the group looks to communicate a new message.

Iranian activists have warned that given Mr. Raisi’s track record in the judiciary, which has jailed and executed dissidents, journalists and lawyers, they expect more state oppression under his administration. That includes passage of a bill that would severely restrict access to the internet and block popular social media apps like Instagram and WhatsApp.