HARDLINE CLERIC EBRAHIM RAISI WINS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN IRAN
Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi won the majority vote in Iran’s presidential election on 18 June. The government announced his victory the following day after he secured 18 million of the 28.9 million votes cast. Many Iranians felt the outcome of the election was predetermined, resulting in a turnout of only 48.8%, a record low. Mr Raisi, a 60-year-old cleric who is also the preferred successor of 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was endorsed by the ultraconservative, hardline Islamic Revolutionary camp. Mr Raisi grew up in a clerical family and wears a black turban, which in the Shi’a Muslim tradition signifies his status as a sayyid—a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Mr Raisi joined the Islamic seminary of Qom at the age of 15 and was influenced by the wave of discontent over the leadership of the Shah. He is thought to have participated in some of the events that led to the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of a new clerical government led by then-Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. After the revolution, Mr Raisi was trained by Mr Khamenei and served as a prosecutor in several districts. He continued to climb the ranks during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and was appointed deputy prosecutor in Tehran in 1985. Human rights organisations claim that Mr Raisi was a member of the ‘Death Commission’ in 1988, a secretive council that was responsible for the capture and execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners. The US has placed heavy sanctions on Mr Raisi due to his alleged role in the mass executions. As president, Mr Raisi will be the second-highest-ranking official in the Iranian government, deferring only to the supreme leader. Mr Raisi’s hard-right stance has worried world powers involved in the Iranian nuclear deal, but he has expressed support for the negotiations. It is thought that national interests will remain his top priority, and because his political future does not depend on a nuclear agreement, he could be less likely to compromise.
From a Christian perspective, an increase in persecution against the Church in Iran is expected under the leadership of Mr Raisi and his right-wing government. A ministry leader in Iran commented: “The new Iranian president will [undoubtedly] start cracking down and arresting Christians. It’s going to be a dark time in Iran, but God will move even more powerfully.” There is a long history of persecution against believers in Iran, especially against Muslim background believers. According to Open Doors, any Christian influence in the country is seen as an attempt to undermine the Islamic rule of Iran. Secret church gatherings are often raided by government police forces and members arrested for crimes against national security. Though it is not a guarantee in all countries where the Church is persecuted, the anticipated crackdown in Iran is expected to be accompanied by immense growth in the local body of Christ. This expectation is echoed in the words of the Iranian ministry leader quoted above — “God’s power will move greatly during this dark time.” The global Church must be earnestly praying for the Spirit to prepare Iranian believers for what sharing the gospel will look like during these times and prepare the hearts of the Iranian people to receive the good news (Mark 1:1). Matthew 10:16 can act as a reminder that the Lord is sending His people to be sheep amongst wolves. Therefore, we can pray that the Church in Iran “be as clever as a viper, while also maintaining the innocence of doves.”
Please pray with us for the following:
- For the Lord to use President-elect Ebrahim Raisi where he has been raised up (Daniel 2:21), to fulfil His purposes, and that he may encounter Christ
- For the Church to be granted wisdom and strength during this time of potentially heightened persecution
- For the Spirit to be moving in the hearts of Iranians to receive the gospel
Image: REUTERS/WANA/Majid Asgaripour