Five challenges facing Iran's new president Raisi

AFP , Thursday 5 Aug 2021

'I will dedicate myself to the service of the people, the honour of the country, the propagation of religion and morality, and the support of truth and justice,' Ebrahim Raisi said

Ebrahim Raisi
Iran's newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi speaks at his swearing in ceremony at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. AFP

Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in Thursday as the Islamic republic's eighth president, in a parliamentary ceremony broadcast live on state television.

"I will dedicate myself to the service of the people, the honour of the country, the propagation of religion and morality, and the support of truth and justice," Raisi said.

Raisi takes over from moderate Hassan Rouhani, whose landmark achievement during his two-term presidency was the 2015 nuclear agreement between the Islamic republic and six world powers.

Five Challenges Facing Iran's New President

The 60-year-old president faces a host of challenges. Here are the five top issues he will have to address.

1- Fixing The Economy 

Raisi's first priority will be to shake off the country's economic crisis.

There were initially high hopes for an influx of foreign investment after Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, in which it pledged not to build or acquire nuclear weapons -- a goal it has always denied pursuing.

But those hopes were dashed when former president Donald Trump in 2018 withdrew the United States from the deal, and launched or reimposed crippling sanctions as part of a sweeping "maximum pressure" campaign.

Iran lost billions in crucial oil revenues, and was locked out of the international financial system, with the damage later compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Raisi said Tuesday that the new government would seek to lift "oppressive" sanctions, but would "not tie the nation's standard of living to the will of foreigners".

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that "fixing economic problems takes time and cannot be done overnight".

Iranian reformist economist Saeed Laylaz said Raisi's key task would be to rebuild the livelihoods of the most disadvantaged Iranians.

To do so, "he must first overcome the problem of inflation, which is his biggest challenge", said Laylaz, who has acted as an adviser to several Iranian presidents.

Thierry Coville, of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, said that if sanctions are lifted there will be an "acceleration of growth and a fall in inflation."

But Raisi will have to manage public expectations, Coville warned, because "one of the risks is that people think that everything will improve immediately, and find themselves very disappointed".

2- Improving Foreign Relations 

If a compromise on the nuclear issue is reached, it "will probably not allow Western investors to return to the Iranian market in the short term," said Clement Therme, a researcher at the European University Institute in Italy, saying a "diplomatic normalisation" between Tehran and Washington was needed for that.

However, Khamenei is hostile to any rapprochement with the United States, which after decades of hostility is commonly labelled the "Great Satan" or the "Global Arrogance" in Iran.

Raisi has said he wants to prioritise relations with countries geographically close to Iran.

While tensions with the West will likely keep simmering, the process of diplomatic normalisation with Saudi Arabia, Iran's great regional rival, should continue, according to several experts.

"A rapprochement with Riyadh would be a major diplomatic success for Tehran," said Therme.

3- Tackling The Pandemic 

Iran is facing the Middle East's deadliest Covid-19 outbreak, with more than four million cases and over 92,000 deaths according to official figures, which are widely acknowledged to underestimate the real toll.

The country has fallen behind on its inoculation campaign, in part due to US sanctions that have hampered its efforts to obtain vaccines.

Getting on top of the country's health crisis and tackling its economic problems are linked, Laylaz said, adding that Raisi needs to "finish off the vaccination process" to help life get back to normal.

4- Regaining The People's Trust 

Iran's isolation and economic pain, as well as the bloody repression of two waves of protests, in the winter of 2017-2018 and in November 2019, have left their mark.

Iranians were also dismayed by the January 2020 downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iran's military amid high tensions with the United States.

The June election saw record low turnout for a presidential poll, at just 48.8 percent.

Raisi said in his inauguration speech Tuesday that the erosion of people's trust "has caused the most problems".

"The crisis of confidence is deep and widespread," said reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi.

Actions to change that include, in his view, "lifting the blocking of certain social networks such as Telegram and Twitter (and) giving up being tough on women's veils".

5- Tackling Environmental Problems 

Ecological issues may be Iran's forgotten priority, but they loom large in the country of 83 million threatened by climate change, water shortages, desertification and urban air pollution.

Demonstrators took to the streets in the country's oil-rich Khuzestan province last month to protest against water problems.

"The environmental crisis in Iran is a reality," Coville said, but so far "we have the impression that the government is not able to put in place a comprehensive policy".

"Water resources are depleted," said Zeidabadi, who pointed to "destruction of natural resources" caused by unsustainable agricultural and industrial practices.

Unfortunately, he added, "it only takes two rains for those in charge to completely forget about it".

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