Ebrahim Raisi, Chief of Iran’s Judiciary, a conservative hardliner, is the new Iranian President who replaces the moderate President Hassan Rouhani. The reason why Iran has swung from a moderate to a hardline conservative lies in global politics. This is not Mr. Raisi’s first run for President, as he ran in 2017 against the outgoing President Hassan Rouhani and lost. However, this time was different for two reasons. Firstly, President Rouhani was not eligible to run again as Iranian Presidents can serve only two consecutive terms. Secondly, Mr. Raisi did not face any credible opposition from the moderate camp, as the majority of them were barred from running for the election by the Guardian Council.
The Guardian Council, responsible for approving presidential candidates, disqualified President Rouhani’s allies from running for office against him. The Guardian Council also reports directly to the supreme leader. It is possible that Khamenei, through his influence at the Guardian Council, worked against President Rouhani’s allies.
Khamenei’s policy preferences can be traced back to the Iran Nuclear deal, negotiated between Western nations and Iran. Supreme leader Khamenei has always opposed any sort of negotiation with the United States. To the contrary, President Rouhani was in favor of negotiating with the United States and as a result Supreme Leader Khamenei reluctantly gave his approval for nuclear talks. The deal was signed on July 14, 2015. President Rouhani belonged to the moderate, reformist faction in Iran and his approach of negotiation was successful, to the disappointment of hardliners in Iran. The Iran Nuclear deal resulted in removal of sanctions and allowed Iran back into the world economy. President Rouhani showcased the Nuclear deal as his major achievement and subsequently won reelection in 2017.
The United States saw a shift under President Trump, and Washington subsequently withdrew from the Nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
This event upset President Rouhani’s approach and opened a new opportunity for hardliners in Iran who were upset by the deal, but were not publicly criticizing it, as they knew that the Supreme leader had tacitly backed the deal. But with the Trump administration reimposing sanctions on Iran and prohibiting Iran from oil supplies, an economic collapse occurred in Iran. Teheran felt the pain of economic sanctions both internally and externally: internally, inflation was a concern; externally, various proxy groups fighting in the Middle East, funded by Iran, felt the pain of sanctions. Iran has proxies in Syria and Iraq and many of these proxies saw funding end due to these sanctions. As a consequence, Iran’s strategic interests were badly impacted by the United States’ withdrawal from the Nuclear deal.
Even after President Trump lost the election in 2020, new President Biden did not immediately rejoin the Nuclear deal, as Iran was hoping. Nonetheless, the United States wanted to discuss Iran’s disturbing influence in the Middle East before rejoining the Nuclear deal. Khamenei, a proponent of the resistance economy, believes that the West will always find excuses to impose sanctions on Iran.
This development clearly deepened the mistrust in Iran and strengthened the hand of the hardliners before the Presidential election in June 2021. Khamenei, also the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was clearly displeased and felt that all of this had happened because he let the reformists in Iran ,led by President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, determine Iran’s policy towards the United States. Khamenei believed another four years of the reformists in Iran would result in the same policies.
The vision of Ebrahim Raisi deserves focus. Raisi shares the views of the Supreme leader: he opposed the Rouhani government, adopting a conciliatory strategy towards the United States and fully endorses Khamenei’s resistance economy. On the other hand, the outgoing President Rouhani was in favor of more foreign investment in Iran, directly clashing with Khamenei’s views on the economy. For the larger good of the country, Khamenei might prefer a President who shares his vision.
Clearly, both Trump and Biden's approaches towards Teheran reinforced the Supreme leader’s beliefs about the United States, as a country that can never be trusted, and subsequently has resulted in the rise of hardliners in Iran.