top of page

Iran: What Comes Next After the Death of President  Raisi?  

By: Khaled A. BaRahma  

Photo credit by: 

The sudden death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash indeed presents a significant  disruption to Iran's political landscape, particularly concerning the question of succession for the  supreme leadership. Raisi’s unexpected demise leaves a vacuum in the line of succession and  opens the field to other ambitious contenders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's own son.  

The absence of a clear successor complicates the stability of Iran's political and clerical  establishment. The very nature of the supreme leadership role being both religious and political  means that any uncertainty can lead to factional infighting, which could potentially destabilize the  regime. Khamenei, who is in advanced age, might now face increasing pressure to manage this  power struggle effectively to maintain continuity and avoid internal conflict that could have wider  regional implications.  

Experts like Alex Vatanka highlight that Khamenei’s control over the succession process is crucial.  The supreme leader’s ability to navigate this political turbulence will determine whether the regime  can maintain its stability or if the succession issue will exacerbate existing tensions and potentially  lead to greater instability.  

In summary, while the analysts suggest that the deaths of political figures typically don't lead to 

major policy changes, the unique context of Iran's leadership dynamics suggests that Raisi's  death could significantly alter the power structures within the Islamic Republic. The coming period  will be critical, as it will reveal how effectively Khamenei can manage this transition and preserve  the regime’s cohesion.  

The Assembly of Experts, a crucial body in Iran's political structure, plays a key role in the  selection of the country's supreme leader. The assembly is composed of 88 members who are  elected every eight years. This clerical body has significant influence, and its composition largely  consists of hard-liners, which affects the political leanings of its decisions.  

Since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, now 85, has been in power since 1989, following  the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, discussions about his potential successor have  become increasingly pertinent. The process for selecting the next supreme leader is highly  confidential. A three-man panel within the Assembly of Experts maintains a list of potential  successors, and this list is reportedly kept so secret that even other members of the assembly  are not privy to its contents.  

Recent developments, such as the death of a significant figure like Ebrahim Raisi (assuming this  hypothetical scenario), could shift the dynamics of the succession process. Some analysts  suggest that this could improve the prospects for Mojtaba Khamenei, who is a cleric and the  second son of the current supreme leader. Mojtaba's potential candidacy has been a topic of  speculation, given his close ties to his father's inner circle and his own standing within the clerical  establishment.  

This could have profound implications not the potential succession of the Supreme Leader position in Iran is  a topic of considerable intrigue and speculation, particularly given the complexities of the country's  political and religious landscape. The current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wields  significant influence, underscored by his close ties to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards  Corps (IRGC). The IRGC has a crucial role in Iran's military, politics, and economy, further  entrenching the Supreme Leader's authority.  

Despite the influential positioning of Khamenei's 55-year-old son, he is perceived as lacking the  necessary leadership and religious credentials to assume the role of Supreme Leader. Currently  a hojatoleslam—a mid-ranking cleric—the younger Khamenei has since 2022 been referred to as  an ayatollah by a news agency linked with seminaries, signifying a higher clerical rank. However,  this elevation in title does not necessarily translate to broad acceptance or legitimacy in the eyes  of Iran's political and religious establishment.  

A member of the Assembly of Experts, the body responsible for selecting the Supreme Leader,  underscored in February the elder Khamenei's opposition to hereditary rule. This stance  effectively reduces the likelihood of a direct paternal succession, which could be perceived as  establishing a monarchical system—a concept antithetical to the principles of the Islamic Republic  established during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  

Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate School, highlighted that such  a succession would indeed negatively impact the optics, likening it to monarchical rule.  Nonetheless, the younger Khamenei may still hold a significant position in the future governance  framework of the Islamic Republic, albeit not as the Supreme Leader. 

Other potential candidates for the role include Ayatollah Alireza A'rafi. At 67, A'rafi is closely  associated with the current Supreme Leader and holds influential positions, including as one of  the deputy chiefs of the Assembly of Experts. His close ties to the current regime and elevated  clerical status make him a considerable contender for the supreme leadership.  

The succession of the Supreme Leader is a delicate matter, with substantial implications for the  future political and religious direction of Iran. The next leader will need to navigate the intricate  interactions within the IRGC, the Assembly of Experts, and other facets of Iran's power structure  while maintaining the ideological foundations laid by the Islamic Revolution.  

Absolutely, in the context of Iran's political and religious hierarchy, the emergence of a less well known candidate for a high-level leadership position, such as the Supreme Leader, is not  unprecedented. Historical precedents and the unique mechanisms of Iran's political structure  support this possibility.  

For instance, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself was not the most prominent or widely recognized  figure when he succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader in 1989. He was a  mid-ranking cleric and had served as President of Iran, but his selection was somewhat surprising  to many observers at the time.  

The process for selecting the Supreme Leader involves the Assembly of Experts, a body of  elected clerics who are responsible for overseeing the leader's performance and choosing a  successor when necessary. These experts have the authority to determine who they believe is  the most qualified candidate based on criteria like piety, knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, and  political acumen. This deliberative process allows for the possibility that a less prominent figure,  such as A'rafi, could be chosen if he meets the religious and political criteria deemed necessary  by the Assembly.  

Given this context, although A'rafi might not enjoy widespread name recognition, his recent  appointment by Khamenei as the head of all Iran's seminaries suggests that he possesses  significant religious credentials and the trust of the current Supreme Leader. This positioning could  indeed make him a plausible candidate for succession, demonstrating that visibility to the general  public is not the sole factor in such high-level appointments within the Islamic Republic’s leadership framework.  

Analysts and experts are closely observing the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps  (IRGC) in shaping the future political landscape of Iran, particularly in the context of selecting a  successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The IRGC, a powerful military and political  force within Iran, is expected to exert significant influence in the succession process to ensure  their interests are safeguarded.  

Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, suggests that Ibrahim  Raisi, who is a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, is favored by the IRGC due to his  conformist nature. Alfoneh describes Raisi as a figure who is easily controllable and lacks  autonomous ideas, making him an ideal candidate from the perspective of the IRGC. 

Historically, the issue of succession has been a delicate matter in Iran. In the early 1980s, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appointed Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri as his deputy. However,  due to internal conflicts, Montazeri was later sidelined, and the role of deputy was abolished. This  incident underscores the complexities and internal power struggles inherent in the Iranian political  system.  

Rumors about Khamenei's health in 2018 reignited discussions about reinstating the position of  deputy supreme leader, but no concrete action was taken. This reluctance to share power, as  highlighted by political analyst Alex Vatanka, reflects Khamenei’s fear of diminishing his own  authority. Such ambiguity surrounding succession has left many speculating without definite  answers about who might follow Khamenei as the Supreme Leader.  

Vatanka describes Khamenei's indecisiveness about clarifying succession plans as potentially  disadvantageous, suggesting that the lack of clear direction could harm his legacy and the stability  of the regime. This uncertainty may drive the IRGC to consolidate their influence further, as they  seek to ensure the continuity of leadership that aligns with their interests. 



Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page