As expected, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election in a heavily engineered contest that saw the lowest voter participation rate in presidential elections since the formation of the Islamic Republic. Considering Raisi’s lack of experience in foreign policy and economic affairs, both areas in which Iran faces formidable challenges, the success of his administration will depend to some extent on who he will pick for his cabinet.
I have identified eleven individuals who stand a good chance of being considered seriously for various cabinet posts in the new administration. Like Raisi, they are largely of the generation that came of age during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and belong to the Principlists (hardliner) camp.
Hossein Amirabdollahian (born 1964) is a top choice for foreign minister and is leading Raisi’s foreign policy transition team. He has a PhD in international relations from Tehran University and has served as ambassador to Bahrain (2007-2010); deputy foreign minister Arab and African Affairs in the Foreign Ministry (2011-2016); and the international affairs deputy of the parliament and advisor to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif since 2016. A staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and closely allied with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), he has been involved with the Iranian nuclear negotiations during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005) and took part in the US-Iran negotiations in Iraq in 2007.
Ali Bagheri-Kani (born 1967) is another strong contender for the role of foreign minister. He has been in charge of the European Affairs of the Foreign Ministry (2006-2008), a foreign policy deputy in the Supreme Council for National Security and member of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team (2008-2013), and the deputy for international affairs in the Judiciary and secretary of the country’s High Council for Human Rights since 2019. In 2013, he was head of the presidential campaign of Saeed Jalili. Bagheri-Kani is an economist trained at Imam Sadeq University and comes from a rather influential family. His father, Mohammad-Bagher Bagheri, was a long-time member of the Assembly of Experts and, his uncle, Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, was a cabinet minister and interim prime minister. More importantly, he is the brother of one of the sons-in-law of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Mehrdad Bazrpash (born 1980) can serve in potential capacities such as energy or industries, mines, and trade minister. The young son of a war martyr, Bazrpash was the head of student Basij during his undergraduate years at Sharif University of Technology and became a youth advisor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was Tehran’s mayor. He went on to become the CEO of Pars Khodro and SAIPA, two major automobile companies; member of parliament (2012-2016); vice president and head of the National Youth Organization (2009-2010); deputy head of the IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation (appointed in 2011); official in the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting; and has been head of the Supreme Audit Court since 2020. Bazrpash, who is a former IRGC member and ally of former president Ahmadinejad, apparently has a doctorate in technology management from Allameh Tabatabai University. His father-in-law was minister of education under Ahmadinejad.
Hossein Dehghan (born 1957) may once again take the helm as defense minister. The IRGC brigadier general was involved in the student takeover of the US embassy during the revolution and then spent some time in Lebanon. He has served in many important posts, including head of the IRGC’s air force (1990–1992); deputy joint chief of the IRGC (1992–1996); head of the IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation (1996–1997); deputy defense minister under President Khatami (1997–2003); vice president and head of Foundations of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs in Khatami’s second cabinet (2004–2005) and Ahmadinejad’s first cabinet (2005–2009); head of the political, defensive, and intelligence committee of the Expediency Council (2010–2013); defense minister and armed forces logistics in President Hassan Rouhani’s first cabinet (2013–2017); and military advisor to the Supreme Leader (2017 to present). Dehghan was one of the first to declare his candidacy in the 2021 presidential election but withdrew in favor of Raisi before the Guardian Council declared its approved list of seven final candidates. Dehghan is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War and received a doctorate in management from Tehran University in 2000.
Parviz Fattah (born 1961) is a possible choice for the post of first vice president. He served as energy minister under Ahmadinejad and has headed the Mostazafan Foundation—a role appointed by the Supreme Leader—since 2019. From 2015-2019, he was the director of the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, a position that Khamenei also appoints. Fattah has a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the IRGC-affiliated Imam Hossein University and is an IRGC war-time commander. Fattah was deputy head of the IRGC’s dam construction company (1992-2003) and director of IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation (2009-2015).
Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari
Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari (born 1964) is a potential clerical candidate for the post of education or culture minister. He was vice president and head of the National Youth Organization (2005-2009) in Ahmadinejad’s first cabinet. In 2018, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Haj Ali Akbari, a former student, head of the policymaking council for Friday prayer leaders and as the temporary Friday prayer leader of Tehran later that year. Haj Ali Akbari has both seminary training and a master’s degree in theology.
Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi
Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi (born 1971), who competed against Raisi in the election but came last in the race, could become the next health minister. An ear, nose, and throat surgeon by training, he has been a member of parliament since 2008 and comes from a powerful family in Mashhad, which is the hometown of Raisi and the Supreme Leader. One of Ghazizadeh’s cousins was health minister in President Hassan Rouhani’s first cabinet and another cousin and his younger brother have served as members of parliament. Ghazizadeh was wounded in the Iran-Iraq War and has been a university professor and dean as well as a medical surgeon.
Saeed Jalili (born 1965), who withdrew from the race in favor of Raisi a couple of days before the June 18 election, is destined for a high-profile post either as first vice president or foreign minister. He can also stay put in his current position as the Supreme Leader’s representative to the Supreme Council for National Security, which will play an even more important role in foreign policy decision-making considering Raisi’s lack of experience. Jalili has a doctorate in political science from Imam Sadeq University and has served as the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security (2008-2013). From 2007-2013, he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator with Western powers, exasperating them with long-winded speeches about past Western-inflicted injustices against Iran. He has been a member of the Expediency Council since 2013. Jalili, an IRGC member who lost his right leg in the Iran-Iraq War, was also a presidential candidate in 2013 and is reportedly close to the Supreme Leader.
Mahmood Nabavian (born 1965), a mid-level cleric, is a two-term member of parliament (2012-2016; 2020-2024) and a likely candidate for the post of intelligence minister. He taught at Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute, one of Iran’s most prestigious cadre training schools. Nabavian was very close to conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who, was considered the spiritual guide to many conservative clerics and politicians until his death in 2020. Nabavian has been an arch-critic of Iran’s nuclear negotiations and dissident philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush. Besides his religious studies at Qom seminary, he has a doctorate in philosophy from Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute.
Ali Nikzad (born 1965) served in 2017 and 2021 as the campaign manager for Raisi’s presidential runs and could become his first vice president, cabinet minister, or chief of staff. Nikzad served as housing and construction minister (2009-2011) and then roads and urban development minister (2011-2013) in Ahmadinejad’s second cabinet. Nikzad was a presidential candidate in 2013 but was disqualified by the Guardian Council. He has an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in public administration.
Alireza Zakani (born 1965), who withdrew from the presidential race and endorsed Raisi a few days before the election, may be rewarded with a cabinet post like interior minister. He is a four-time member of parliament (2004-2016; 2020-2024) and has served as director of its research arm since 2020. Zakani is a former IRGC officer and was injured in the Iran-Iraq War. The Guardian Council disqualified him from running in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. He has been the secretary-general of the Alliance of Wayfarers of the Islamic Revolution and is the owner of the Jahan Newswebsite and Panjereh Weekly. He has a medical degree in nuclear medicine.
Raisi has to soon resign from the post of judiciary chief to start serving as president. Two candidates standing ready to occupy the vacant post of chief justice are the following:
Alireza Arafi (born 1959) is a cleric from Yazd who has previously served as the chancellor of Al-Mustafa International University and Friday Prayer leader of Meybod. Arafi is currently a member of the Guardian Council since 2019; a Friday prayer leader of Qom since 2013; a member of the High Council of Cultural Revolution; and, most importantly, director of the Management Center of Religious Seminaries, which coordinated the activities of religious seminaries throughout the country. In 2015, Arafi ran for the Assembly of Experts from Tehran but did not get enough votes. However, he managed to win a seat in this assembly in 2021.
Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei
Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei (born 1956) is a hardline cleric who has been intimately connected to the intelligence ministry. He has undergone both seminary training and has a master’s degree in international law from Islamic Azad University in Tehran. He has held posts such as: prosecutor general of the special court for clergy (1998-2005); intelligence minister in President Ahmadinejad’s first cabinet (2005-2009); prosecutor general (2009-2014); first deputy to the judiciary chief and spokesperson of the judiciary (2014-present); and member of the Expediency Council (since 2007). Mohseni-Ejei earned a spot on the sanctions list of both the European Union and US Treasury Department for his role in the post-election crackdown and show trials that followed the Green Movement, which was a reaction to the 2009 contested presidential election.
Mehrzad Boroujerdi is a professor and director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. Among his many books and publications is Post-revolutionary Iran: A Political Handbook, co-authored with Kourosh Rahimkhani.
Tue, Jun 22, 2021
On June 21, 2021, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative hosted an event to discuss the implications of Iran’s June 18 presidential elections for US-Iran relations. Read the key takeaways.
Wed, Jun 23, 2021
Why were pre-election polls conducted throughout Iran’s presidential campaign period if there was never any doubt of the election result? The answer lies in the election process itself.
Tue, Jun 15, 2021
For the US and Iran, an Ebrahim Raisi presidency could portend not much beyond a return to a 2015 nuclear agreement that traded limited sanctions relief for time-bound curbs on Iran’s nuclear activities.
IranElections2021 by Barbara Slavin