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For the Islamic Republic of Iran, Raisi's death 'too shall pass'

For the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi's death 'too shall pass'
5 min read

Tanya Goudsouzian

20 May, 2024
President Ebrahim Raisi's untimely death has fuelled speculation about Iran's future. But, as Tanya Goudsouzian writes, it's likely to be more of the same.
Uncertainty is unlikely to introduce instability either within Iran or in its foreign policy, writes Tanya Goudsouzian [The New Arab/Dall-E]

Hours after a helicopter carrying Iran’s president, foreign minister and other top officials went missing in bad weather over the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, speculation was rife over whether this was a deliberate assassination or an accident.

Initially described as a “hard landing”, all hopes of finding survivors were dashed when Iranian media reported the helicopter debris was found completely incinerated.

Many experts reviewed weather conditions and the age of the aircraft and concluded the conditions were consistent with a technical failure, not an uncommon occurrence with helicopters.

Additionally, given the American origin of the aircraft, sanctions prevented the manufacturer, Bell Helicopters, from providing parts, requiring maintenance teams to either use suspect “grey market”, third party or reverse-engineered parts.

Indeed, former foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, was quick to blame US sanctions, noting that “this issue will definitely be recorded in the black list of American crimes against the Iranian nation.”

Life after Raisi

Whether the death of President Ebrahim Raisi was the result of a tragic aircraft mishap, or a targeted killing is less important than the consequences to follow.

President Raisi, after all, was the most likely candidate to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and become the next Supreme Leader, a succession certain to ripple through both Iranian society and the greater Middle East, if not beyond.

While many predict his death will have major consequences, or that it will create instability within the top ranks – particularly in the transition to a new supreme leader upon the death of Ali Khamenei – it is far more likely that significant changes will not occur within Iran nor will it affect the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic.

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Internally, the regime will maintain its stability. Despite the decades-long rhetoric that the regime is “in a fight for its long-term survival”, Iran’s 45-year theocracy is quite durable and unlikely to overturn any time soon.

Basic governing institutions are in place and show no signs of fracturing. This was made apparent in the 2009 Green Movement uprisings, and Raisi’s passing is a far less consequential event.

The process for selecting a new president is already underway and Vice President Mohammad Mokbher will serve in Raisi’s position until elections are held within 50 days, and the new president will serve a full four-year term until 2028.

In the view of Ali Vaez, the Iran director at the International Crisis Group,  the system is “already on a trajectory to make sure that the successor of the supreme leader is completely in line with his vision for the future of the system.”

Nor will Raisi’s death have significant consequences on Iranian foreign policy. It won’t affect the Gaza war; it won’t slow down the expansion of the IRGC mission to expand the Axis of Resistance, it will not change the impasse on nuclear talks with the United States nor will it impact the growing alliance between Russia and China.

Raisi was, in many ways, a figure secondary to the decisions of the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards on matters of foreign policy and it is unlikely that his passing will affect those policies. 

Who will succeed the Supreme Leader?

Far more significant than the death of Raisi will be the succession to the Supreme Leader after the death of the 85-year-old Ali Khamenei. His significance cannot be understated. He has been in power for 35 years and is only the second leader since the Islamic Revolution of 1979; Raisi was considered one of two candidates to become the third.

While many point to Khamenei’s second son, Mojtaba, as the leading contender, Khamenei has expressed opposition to hereditary rule, opening the position to a range of other candidates and the instability such a power struggle could accompany. Nonetheless, this will not play out because of Raisi’s passing even though it will lurk in the background as the elephant in the living room.


The untimely death of Ebrahim Raisi is a tragedy for the Iranian people and introduces a measure of uncertainty to the internal affairs of Iran. Yet, while it may cause unexpected elections and selections of key government officials, that uncertainty is unlikely to introduce instability either within Iran or in its foreign policy.

After 45 years in power, the theocracy is firmly in place and the Iranian constitution, secondary to the Supreme Leader’s decisions but still significant in its authority, is expected to ensure a smooth process of presidential succession – and certainly far smoother than the succession battles which will emerge upon the passing of Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei. 

Tanya Goudsouzian is an Istanbul-based Canadian journalist who has covered the Middle East for over two decades. Noted for her interviews with leading political figures, she is currently Executive Producer of TRT World's "One on One" show. Previously, she was the Opinion Editor at Al Jazeera English

Follow her on X: @tgoudsouzian


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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.