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Khamenei’s Confidant Takes Key Role in Iran as Succession Looms

Khamenei’s Confidant Takes Key Role in Iran as Succession Looms
epa11354654 (FILE) - Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during the annual Army Day in a military base in Tehran, Iran, 17 April 2024 (reissued 20 May 2024). According to Iranian state media, President Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several others were killed in a helicopter crash in the mountainous Varzaghan area on 19 May, during their return to Tehran, after an inauguration ceremony of the joint Iran-Azerbaijan constructed Qiz-Qalasi dam at the Aras river.EPA-EFE/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

The sudden death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has the world asking who’ll eventually replace him as the Islamic Republic’s de-facto no. 2. 

For now, that job falls to Mohammad Mokhber, Raisi’s first vice president and deputy since 2021. The question is if he’ll serve as a placeholder president or instead stake out a bigger role for himself.

Seen as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — Iran’s ultimate ruler responsible for making all major decisions — Mokhber became acting president after Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash was confirmed earlier Monday.

The 68-year-old will head up a three-person council that will organize a new presidential election within 50 days. In the meantime, he will have “the powers and functions of the president,” according to Iran’s constitution.

What happens next is unclear. The election that will have to take place by July may well include Mokhber on the ballot sheet to replace Raisi on a permanent basis.

Apart from regular trips at home to inaugurate government projects around the country, Mokhber more recently came to prominence as one of the top Iranian officials leading talks with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and reportedly traveled to Moscow to clinch deals to supply weapons to Russia.

Read More: Who Will Be Iran’s Next President Following Raisi’s Death?

Raisi’s death will likely have a major effect on who replaces Khamenei, 85, as Supreme Leader. The late president had been mooted as a top contender alongside Khamenei’s son Mojtaba, who now stands alone as the most likely successor.

Yet Iran’s attitude toward dynastic rule is complex, given the association with the monarchy overthrown in the 1979 revolution.

Whoever takes over as Supreme Leader must be a high-ranking Islamic cleric, which usually puts regular politicians like Mokhber out of the running. Similarly to Mojtaba, Raisi was an experienced theologian before becoming head of the judiciary and later president.

Mokhber is a former officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but is better known for his 14 years running an endowment fund called the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order.

Also called Setad, the fund controls assets such as property seized after the revolution, and is now an economic powerhouse with business interests across major sectors including finance, oil, construction and pharmaceuticals.

Mokhber was directly sanctioned by the US for running the fund in early 2021.

While “purportedly charitable,” Setad “controls large swaths of the Iranian economy, including assets expropriated from political dissidents and religious minorities,” the US Treasury said at the time.

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