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Ebrahim Raeesi: Political Novice with no Flair for Public Speaking

April 28, 2017
Reza HaghighatNejad
5 min read
Ebrahim Raeesi: Political Novice with no Flair for Public Speaking


Ebrahim Raeesi made his first official appearance as a presidential candidate on April 26. Raeesi, the favorite candidate of the Revolutionary Guards and many of Iran’s conservatives, gave a 45-minute interview on Iranian state TV, speaking about corruption, religion, and unemployment. At times, he also tried to present himself a victim, a tactic that it unlikely to work for a man with close ties to one of Iran's darkest moments in recent history. 

For a figure who is largely unknown in politics, it was an important event, and vital for the successful launch of his campaign.

Raeesi was smartly dressed, and appeared much more modern and approachable than many other mullahs. Due to the fact that he is a “seyed,” or a descendant of Prophet Mohammad, he has an important genealogical advantage over the other candidates. But the interview didn’t start out well: He talked slowly, without an easy command of words, and he looked uncomfortable in front of the camera for the first half of the interview. His tone of voice ranged from slightly unpleasant to a high-pitched scream when he was animated about an issue. 

At first, Raeesi tried to curry favor with voters by presenting himself as someone who came from an underprivileged background. But he lacked sincerity as well as ease, and it was only around minute 30 of the 45-minute interview that he remembered to smile and look at the audience. His refusal to look into the camera only added to the overall impression that this was a man not quite ready for the public.  He persistently used the “we” pronoun, as though he was reading aloud a declaration. He did use some good keywords — unemployment, poverty, corruption — but failed to explain how he was going to tackle the issues.

I give Raeesi a D+ for this first performance. If it gives any indication about what his campaign will look like overall, he will suffer from four discernible weak points:

1. Talking in Generalities

Raeesi does not talk like an executive. He uses too many generalities and slogans and has a habit of giving advice. Somebody should explain to him that — at least for now — he is not running for the job of the Supreme Leader, but for the presidency.

2. Repetition

Raeesi repeats himself. Fifteen minutes into the interview, he had already done it several times. In addition, his sentences lacked cohesion: On more than one occasion, he either did not answer the question or gave an unrelated answer. He failed to answer a question about reducing the income gap and instead delivered a kind of pre-prepared manifesto. His answer to a question about coordinating branches of government had nothing to do with the question posed. When asked about making it easier for lower-income people to marry, he talked about how the construction industry can boost employment. His statements about corruption, poverty and unemployment were a jumbled mess. He gave the impression that all these ideas were spinning in his head and he just wanted to get them out. Plus, like some Iranian film directors who cannot provide a satisfactory ending for their movies, he cannot bring his statements to a conclusion. The result? A bewildered audience.

3. A Failure to Simplify

Raeesi generalizes, but he does not know how to simplify ideas and statements. For example, when a politician speaks about cash subsidies, he or she does not need to say: “subsidies to lower deciles can be increased by two or three times.” Clear, even numbers will do: “There are 20 million people in need in this country, and my government would pay them a monthly subsidy of 135,000 tomans” (around $42). Whatever the subject, Raeesi cannot talk about it in a clear and straightforward manner. 

4. Playing The Victim

Raeesi started the interview by recounting the poverty of his childhood; toward the end, he touched on victimhood again, comparing himself with the “martyred” Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, one of the most influential figures of the 1979 Islamic Revolution who was assassinated along with 72 other officials in a bomb blast in June 1989. But he raised this for a reason. In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about him as a principal figure in the mass executions of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. As a presidential candidate, it seems he is making an attempt to exchange his image as a butcher for that of a victim. This tactic is unlikely to succeed. He must find another image to project — because almost nobody will believe he is a victim.


Strong Points

Raeesi was somewhat successful in presenting himself as a religious and revolutionary figure. Currently, he is the guardian of the richest religious endowment in Iran, the Astan Quds Razavi Foundation. The endowment is located in the holy city of Mashhad, where Imam Reza, the highly-revered eighth Shia imam, is buried. Raeesi started his interview referring to Imam Reza and ended with a reference to him. He put emphasis on the teachings of the Islamic Revolution, and talked about his experience living and working in Mashhad.

Though he was unconvincing as an executive, he performed well when asked about the internet, and was able to give several examples to demonstrate his views, including personal experience. Toward the end of the interview, he made clear and definitive statements and paid tribute to the tireless efforts of General Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of the expeditionary Qods Force fighting in Syria.


Considering all of the above, and the fact that he is a political novice, I give Ebhrahim Raeesi a D+ for his performance.



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Shima Shahrabi
5 min read
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