Ebrahim Raisi: Iranian President dies in helicopter crash

Ebrahim Raisi: Iranian President dies in helicopter crash

Helpers searched for hours for the helicopter of the injured Ebrahim Raisi. Then state media confirmed the death of the Iranian president and the other inmates. The Islamic Republic is now facing a political crisis.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian were killed when their helicopter crashed in Iran. None of the nine inmates survived, the state news agency Irna and state television reported on Monday. There was initially no official information about the cause of the accident.

Raisi was returning from a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev along with Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian on Sunday afternoon when their plane disappeared from radar in thick fog. Together they inaugurated a dam in the neighboring country. The entourage then made its way back to Iran with a total of three helicopters, but the presidential plane did not arrive at its destination.

Speculation then arose as to whether the crash was due to bad weather, a technical defect in the helicopter or even sabotage. There was no clarity on this until Monday morning.

Iran’s air force is considered to be very outdated, its modernization is making little progress in the face of strict international sanctions, and spare parts are difficult to obtain. Many planes and helicopters date from before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the country had close relations with the United States. Serious accidents and crashes occur again and again.

Iran faces political crisis

Rescue workers spent hours searching for the crash site in pouring rain, fog and difficult terrain before discovering the helicopter’s wreckage on a slope early in the morning. Iranian media showed images of a completely burned-out wreckage.

Iran’s first vice president, Mohammed Mochber, chaired an emergency cabinet meeting late Sunday evening. The protocol stipulates that the first vice president continues as head of government after the death of the president. According to the constitution, new elections must then take place within 50 days.

The accident is likely to plunge the Islamic Republic into a political crisis. Due to the lack of alternatives, the search for a long-term successor for Raisi will be difficult. And Amirabdollahian in particular had increasingly come into the public eye as foreign minister since the beginning of the Gaza war and had made numerous trips to allies.

Government criticized for repressive policies

While government supporters mourned the statesmen, numerous Iranians expressed their glee over the helicopter crash on social media. Raisi’s government has been criticized for years because of its ultra-conservative values, the suppression of civil rights and the severe economic crisis in Iran.

Religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei assured on Sunday that government business would not be affected under any circumstances. “There will be no interruption in the country’s activities,” the state agency Irna quoted him as saying.

Raisi was sworn in as the new president in August 2021. The arch-conservative cleric officially became the successor to Hassan Rouhani, who was no longer allowed to run after two terms in office. As the top candidate of the political hardliners and the preferred candidate and protégé of the religious leader Khamenei, Raisi won the presidential election with almost 62 percent of the vote.

Iran has been in the headlines more recently, also because there seemed to be a threat of a regional war with its arch-enemy Israel. During Raisi’s term in office, the Islamic Republic deepened its economic and military cooperation with China and Russia, and relations with the West cooled, among other things because of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. The West also accused the leadership in Tehran of serious human rights violations. Nevertheless, just a few days ago there were again reports of new, indirect talks with the USA in the Gulf state of Oman.

Religious hardliner: Ebrahim Raisi as a man of the system

Raisi was born in Mashhad in 1960 and worked in the country’s central judicial authority for over three decades. In 2019 he was appointed head of justice. In his previous role as public prosecutor, he is said to have been responsible for numerous arrests and executions of political dissidents in 1988, which is why his opponents gave him the nickname “Butcher of Tehran”.

Experts had meanwhile also treated Raisi as a possible successor to Khamenei, who turned 85 in April. Even though the younger generation’s criticism is now increasingly directed against the entire system of the Islamic Republic, Raisi was particularly under pressure domestically. Recently, the government pushed forward with its controversial policy of forcing people to wear headscarves, thereby alienating parts of the population even more.

Raisi’s death is likely to trigger a power struggle

If the presidential office has to be filled, a violent power struggle is likely to break out in Tehran, wrote Iran expert Arash Azizi in an analysis for the US magazine “The Atlantic”. Raisi’s passivity has encouraged challengers among the hardliners. They would see his weak presidency as an opportunity, Azizi wrote. “The death of Raisi would change the balance of power between factions within the Islamic Republic.”

Source: Stern

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