Ebrahim Raisi’s death: Political shifts in Iran and beyond - Hindustan Times
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Ebrahim Raisi’s death: Political shifts in Iran and beyond

May 28, 2024 01:57 PM IST

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Sing, scholars of international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The sudden death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, a prominent political figure in Iran, has significant ramifications for the nation, the broader West Asia region, and global politics. Raisi's presidency, marked by a hardline stance on domestic and foreign policies, leaves a complex legacy and creates a power vacuum that could lead to considerable shifts in the geopolitical landscape.

A woman holds up a poster of the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the mam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran in a funeral ceremony for him and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in a mountainous region of the country's northwest. (AP)
A woman holds up a poster of the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the mam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran in a funeral ceremony for him and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in a mountainous region of the country's northwest. (AP)

Raisi's sudden death occurred in a helicopter crash during a tour in Khuzestan is at present attributed to severe mechanical failure. The crash killed Raisi and several senior officials. The Iranian government declared nationwide mourning and launched an investigation. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for unity to ensure a smooth transition of power. This tragic event has intensified Iran's political atmosphere, with factions vying for influence, setting the stage for significant domestic, regional, and global implications.

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President Raisi's tenure was characterised by his staunch conservative ideology and commitment to upholding the Islamic Republic's foundational principles. His death triggers a period of political uncertainty in Iran, as various factions within the government and religious establishment vie for power. The immediate challenge is the selection of a successor who can maintain the delicate balance between the country's various political and religious interests.

Raisi's administration was focused on addressing economic hardships exacerbated by international sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic. His economic policies aimed at countering the 50% inflation rate and reducing the unemployment rate, which stood at around 11% in 2022.

However, his death could disrupt ongoing economic policies and reforms, potentially leading to increased public dissatisfaction and social unrest. The stability of Iran's internal politics hinges on how effectively the transition of power is managed and whether a consensus candidate can emerge to unify the country's diverse political landscape.

In West Asia, Raisi's death has far-reaching consequences. Iran plays a crucial role in regional politics, particularly in its relationships with neighbouring countries and its influence over various non-state actors and militias. Raisi's administration was known for its assertive regional policy, including support for allies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.

The power vacuum left by Raisi's demise could embolden rival regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Israel to recalibrate their strategies towards Iran. The potential for increased tensions and proxy conflicts cannot be overlooked, as these countries may seek to exploit Iran's moment of vulnerability. Additionally, the political instability in Iran could affect the dynamics of ongoing conflicts in the region, altering the balance of power and potentially leading to new alignments and alliances.

For instance, Iran's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen has been a significant factor in the regional power struggle. Any changes in Iran's foreign policy direction could impact these groups' operational capacities and strategies. According to a 2021 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Iran's military expenditure was approximately $15 billion, reflecting its significant investment in regional influence.

On the global stage, President Raisi's death is likely to impact international relations and the geopolitical chessboard. Under Raisi, Iran maintained a contentious relationship with the West, particularly the United States, over issues such as the nuclear deal (JCPOA) and regional security. His passing opens the possibility for a shift in Iran's foreign policy, depending on who succeeds him.

If a more moderate or pragmatic leader emerges, there could be renewed efforts to revive the nuclear deal and engage in diplomacy with Western nations. This could lead to a reduction in sanctions and an improvement in Iran's economic situation, potentially stabilising the region. Conversely, if a hardliner similar to Raisi takes power, the status quo of confrontation and distrust with the West is likely to continue, perpetuating geopolitical tensions.

The economic impact of sanctions on Iran has been severe, with the country's gross domestic product (GDP) contracting by 6.8% in 2019 and continuing to struggle in subsequent years. The World Bank reported that in 2021, Iran's GDP growth was a modest 3.1%, hindered by ongoing sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic. A shift in leadership could either exacerbate these economic challenges or pave the way for gradual recovery through renewed international engagement.

The death of Raisi also affects Iran's relations with major global powers such as Russia and China. Both countries have strategic partnerships with Iran, and the nature of these relationships could evolve based on the new leadership's foreign policy orientation. For example, in 2021, Iran and China signed a 25-year cooperation agreement worth $400 billion, highlighting the strategic importance of their bilateral relations. The global response to Iran's political transition will be closely watched, as major powers assess their strategies in light of the new leadership.

The death of Raisi also has significant implications for India, given its strategic interests and historical ties with Iran. India has invested heavily in the Chabahar Port, which is crucial for accessing markets in Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Any political instability in Iran could disrupt these projects and affect India's trade routes. Furthermore, India imports a significant portion of its crude oil from Iran. Despite sanctions, India has sought to maintain a balance in its relations with Iran, which is vital for its energy security. Raisi's death could lead to a reevaluation of these ties, especially if a new leadership takes a different stance on foreign investments and partnerships. Additionally, the geopolitical shifts in West Asia could impact India's regional strategy, necessitating diplomatic agility to navigate the changing landscape.

The death of Raisi marks a pivotal moment for Iran, West Asia, and global politics. Domestically, it ushers in a period of uncertainty and potential instability as Iran navigates the power transition. Regionally, it could alter the balance of power and influence, with implications for ongoing conflicts and rivalries. Globally, the future of Iran's foreign policy and its interactions with major powers hang in the balance, with potential shifts in diplomatic and economic relations. As the world watches how Iran manages this transition, the broader implications for regional stability and international relations will unfold. Raisi's death is not just a national event but a significant moment with the potential to reshape the geopolitical landscape in profound ways.

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Sing, scholars of international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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