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Updated May 20, 2024, 7:14am EDT
Middle East
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Semafor Signals

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash

Insights from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Iran International, and Al-Monitor

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FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi kisses the holy Koran as he addresses the 78th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 19, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
Brendan McDermid/File Photo/Reuters
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The News

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash in mountains near the Azerbaijan-Iran border. He was 63.

Raisi was traveling with the Iranian foreign minister, who has also been confirmed as dead, along with several other passengers and crew. Rescuers discovered the wrecked helicopter early Monday after an overnight search in blizzard conditions.

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Iran has declared five days of mourning.

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SIGNALS

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Raisi was seen as possible successor to Supreme Leader

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Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Raisi, a hardline cleric known for brutally suppressing dissent, was seen as a potential successor to Iran’s 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His death could ignite a succession crisis, one analyst wrote on X: “In Iran’s conspiratorial political culture few will believe Raisi’s death was accidental,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. If the unpopular Mojtaba Khamenei, Khamaeni’s son, were to be appointed Iran’s Supreme Leader, he added, he would face a legitimacy crisis, and rely heavily on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to maintain order.

President oversaw tightening grip on Iranian society

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Al-Monitor

Raisi, who was elected as president in 2021, oversaw a period of tightening state repression and enforcement of the country’s extreme religious laws. Under his rule, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard violently cracked down on widespread protests against Iran’s morality laws following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022 for wearing her hijab “improperly.” Iran’s use of executions spiked: In 2023, 834 people were put to death in Iran, compared to 582 people in 2022, Al-Monitor reported.

Regime faces new legitimacy crisis

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Source:  
Iran International

Raisi’s death plunges Iran’s regime into a legitimacy crisis, Shahram Kholdi, a Middle East politics professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo, argued in the UK-based news outlet Iran International. By law, an election must be called within 50 days to choose the new president — but that creates issues for the regime, Kholdi said. “What makes the present situation most dire is that if Khamenei dies before a new president has been elected, the country may potentially plunge into nationwide unrest,” he wrote. Following the 2022 protests, “the regime already grapples with an endemic crisis of legitimacy. Thus, it is Khamenei’s demise that can potentially trigger a manifold crisis.”

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