An accident and its aftermath...

Following the helicopter crash that claimed the life of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (63) and his accompanying delegation, it has become the hottest topic in the Middle East these days. As Iran prepares for a funeral adorned with lamentations, both Raisi's persona and his position on the Iranian political stage are among the focal points that the international press is focusing on.

Born in the holy city of Mashhad, considered "sacred" in Shia belief due to being the burial site of the eighth Imam Ali al-Ridha (d. 818), Ebrahim Raisi rose to prominence after 1979, holding critical positions despite his young age. However, the most controversial period of his career, still debated today, spans the summer of 1988: amidst the Iran-Iraq War, thousands of prisoners were executed in prisons under the pretext of being "anti-Islamic Revolution," "pro-American," and "supporters of the West," while at that time, Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, the political heir and successor of Ayatollah Khomeini, strongly condemned this situation. Montazeri, who was expelled from the system and put under house arrest after Khomeini dismissed him, later stated in his memoir that Ebrahim Raisi was one of the names on the committee responsible for these executions. Raisi, until his death, never officially commented or defended himself on this matter.

Married to the daughter of Sayyid Ahmed Alam al-Huda, one of the most prominent Shia religious figures in Mashhad, in 1983, Raisi solidified his religious and political position through this marriage. Over time, with Alam al-Huda assuming important positions such as membership in the Assembly of Experts and the Friday prayer imamate in Mashhad, Raisi's status also rose. For example, before being elected president in 2021, Raisi was the chairman of the board of trustees of the Imam Reza Foundation in Mashhad. In Iran, where religious cliques intertwine with the economy, the Imam Reza Foundation, which owns real estate and land in 12 provinces of the country, represents not only a religious institution but also a vast political and economic power.

While all the spotlights are on Ebrahim Raisi, another highly notable figure who lost his life in the same crash was Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian. Amir-Abdollahian, who played a leading role in repairing Iran's relations with its neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, left positive impressions on his counterparts in the capitals of the region.

Another common denominator between Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian was their proximity to Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by the US in Baghdad in 2020. It is known, especially, that Amir-Abdollahian assisted "Hajj Qasem" in organizing and coordinating Iran's paramilitary satellite groups in the Middle East.

Shia belief, with its glorification of the dead, their deaths, and mourning, now seems to have found itself fresh heroes. Tehran and other cities are adorned with giant posters featuring photos of Kassim Suleimani kissing Ebrahim Raisi on the forehead.

Was the helicopter crash an assassination? I believe this question will be asked for a long time. Personally, I think it wasn't an assassination. However, during the process leading to the crash, there were undoubtedly incredible negligence and recklessness. Leaving everything aside, the fact that the president, foreign minister, regional governor, and the Friday prayer imam of Tabriz were all put on the same helicopter raises questions about the "Iranian state mentality" in itself.

Ebrahim Raisi was seen as the strongest candidate to succeed 85-year-old Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Raisi had a rival: Khamenei's son Mojtaba. Now, Mojtaba Khamenei remains as the sole candidate closest to filling his father's seat. However, due to the trauma of succession from father to son still vividly present in Iranian society, it is difficult to say that the transition from father to son will be so easy.

The Iranian state system and institutions are not so fragile and rootless as to collapse with the deaths of individuals. Therefore, it would not be reasonable to say that Raisi's death will shake the system. However, there is a truth that even tourists visiting Iran notice: the gap between the government and the people is rapidly widening; many problems complained about during the Shah era seem to have revived today and descended upon the people once again. The gradual exit of charismatic and influential individuals from the stage seems to accelerate this process of rupture.

#Ebrahim Raisi
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