Raisi’s death

President Raisi and others were returning after attending an inauguration ceremony of a dam on Iran’s border

By Editorial Board
May 21, 2024
Iranians gather at Valiasr Square in central Tehran to mourn the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and seven others in a helicopter crash the previous day, on May 20, 2024. — AFP

The shocking news of Iranian President Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash along with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and other high officials in the Varzaqan region of the country’s East Azerbaijan province on Sunday afternoon will no doubt hold meaning and consequence for both Iran as well as the larger region. A total of nine people were on board the aircraft and none survived. President Raisi and others were returning after attending an inauguration ceremony of a dam on Iran’s border with the Republic of Azerbaijan when the chopper crashed while flying through a mountainous terrain amid heavy fog. Iranian state media has said that bad weather caused the crash and complicated rescue and search operation, which went on for hours and relief workers finally located the missing helicopter on Monday. According to Iranian media reports, Raisi’s convoy included three helicopters and the other two “reached their destination safely”. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced five days of mourning. Raisi, 63, was tipped as a potential successor to the supreme leader. Iranian Vice President Mohammad Mokhber has now been appointed to assume interim duties after Raisi’s death.


Pakistan has announced a day of mourning in solidarity with Iran. Raisi was in Pakistan on a three-day official visit just last month. It was the first visit by any head of state to Pakistan after the general elections and quite an important one given the regional and global issues. As condolences pour in, questions loom not only over who will succeed Raisi but also over the nature of the chopper accident. Former Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already said this was due to the embargo on sale of aircraft: “One of the main culprits of [Sunday’s] tragedy is the US, which ... embargoed the sale of aircraft and aviation parts to Iran and does not allow the people of Iran to enjoy good aviation facilities…These will be recorded in the list of US crimes.” State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a US-made Bell 212 helicopter, which Iran purchased in the early 2000s. Due to the Western sanctions, aircraft in Iran face a shortage of parts and often fly without proper safety checks.

Ebrahim Raisi’s death marks the end of an era in Iranian politics, leaving behind a complex legacy that reflects both the challenges and aspirations of the Iranian people. Raisi, a seasoned politician and former judiciary chief, ascended to the presidency in 2021 amid high expectations and intense scrutiny. His tenure was defined by a mix of domestic reforms, geopolitical tensions, and economic hardships. Domestically, Raisi faced the daunting task of addressing widespread discontent over economic inequality, corruption, and political repression. While he made some efforts to tackle these issues, including initiatives to combat corruption and expand social welfare programs, his critics said that progress remained slow and uneven. On the international front, Raisi navigated a complex web of diplomatic challenges, including escalating tensions with the US and its allies. As the country grapples with the question of succession, the outcome of the political transition will have far-reaching consequences for Iran’s domestic stability, regional dynamics, and global standing – although transition is expected to be smooth. A new president will be elected after 50 days as per the constitution, and Iran’s stance on issues is hardly going to change. Raisi’s unfortunate death, however, is going to add to a growing list of troubles and tragedies in and around the Middle East.