Daniel DePetris

Can Iran’s ‘butcher’ president make peace with the Saudis?

(Getty images)

It’s official: after eight years of a relatively pragmatic administration, Iran is now under new management. Ebrahim Raisi, a disciple of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the former judiciary chief, was inaugurated this week as Iran’s next president.

Clad in a white shirt, black robe and thin-framed glasses, Raisi accepted a task that will likely prove to be his toughest assignment in a decades-long career serving the Islamic Republic system. 

Protests over poor public services, like water shortages, are becoming more frequent. While the International Monetary Fund projects Iran’s economy to grow at 2.5 per cent this year, the country is in the midst of a highly fractious period. With a £140bn GDP, Iran’s total economic output is down 60 per cent over the last decade, a result of a stringent U.S. sanctions regime, gross mismanagement from successive Iranian governments and a banking system foreign investors find too risky to dabble in. 

Raisi, understanding the Iranian population – not to mention the Islamic Republic’s core support base – is getting increasingly frustrated with the state of things. He has pledged to rejuvenate Iran’s economy – a task that could be virtually impossible if the ongoing nuclear negotiations with the United States don’t result in an successful outcome.

Nobody can be certain what Ebrahim Raisi’s foreign policy will look like

Already under U.S. sanctions for his role in sentencing thousands of Iranian dissidents to death in the late 1980s, Raisi is also starting his tenure with lacklustre public support. Indeed, this year’s presidential election had the poorest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history, with only 48 per cent of the population choosing to vote for a winnowed field designed to make Raisi’s victory a fait-accompli. To the extent Raisi has any support in the system, it’s from Khamenei, the man at the top, who in his old age is trying to ensure a loyal servant is in position to replace him after his death.

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