Yesterday Ebrahim Raisi released a final, full list of his proposed new cabinet members to the Iranian parliament. In line with both political analysts’ forecasts and media speculation, alongside the names already announced this week were those of several relatively little-known figures with scant experience, as well as a hefty compliment of officials who last served in the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration.
The Minister of Economic Affairs will be Ehsan Khandouzi, a current serving MP. Ex-Oil Minister and conservative lawmaker Massoud Mirkazemi has been chosen to head up the Planning and Budget Organization. The latter was a key figure in the 9th government under Ahmadinejad and holds a PhD in engineering, but has no documented experience of preparing budgets, either for parliament or the executive.
Prior to the confirmation of Khandouzi’s appointment, there had been talk of either Mohammad Reza Farzin, a former Secretary of the Targeted Subsidies Headquarters in Ahmadinejad's government, or Mohammad Hadi Zahedi Vafa, a graduate of Imam Sadegh University, being handed this key portfolio for the Raisi administration.
Khandouzi, meanwhile, is relatively junior. Born in 1980 a year after the Islamic Revolution, he has served as director of the Department of Islamic Economics at Allameh Tabatabai University but he has no previous ministerial or macroeconomic management record.
Elsewhere Reza Fatemi, Ebrahim Raisi’s deputy during his tenure at the Astan Quds Razavi Foundation in Mashhad, was also rewarded for this long-time allegiance with the role of Minister for Industry, Mine and Trade. During the Ahmadinejad administration, he had the related but less influential task of renovating the country's outdated and damaged cars.
Javad Sadati Nejad, who is set to take on the top job at the Ministry of Jihad for Agriculture, is the current speaker for the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture: a hardliner who had previously taken issue with MP Mahmoud Sadeghi after he commented on the suicide of a Kashan University scholarship student.
Raisi Allies Reshuffled
Although several figures will be relieved to have not been completely thrown out of government, the reshuffles will likely have caused disappointment for many of the officials involved. These include Ezatollah Zarghami, the former head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and a hopeful for the 2021 presidential election who was disqualified by the Guardian Council. He’d agitated for the top job at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, but was instead sent to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism. Rostam Ghasemi, meanwhile, was named Minister of Roads and Urban Development instead of his preferred brief at the Ministry of Oil.
Probably in a bid to avoid getting drawn into factional clashes between IRGC commanders, Raisi stopped short of giving another former presidential hopeful, General Saeed Mohammad, a key role.
Meanwhile, although it was widely rumored that Mehrdad Bazarpash would be appointed Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, the job will instead be going to Hojjat Abdolmaleki, a member of the faculty of Imam Sadegh University. Abdolmaleki previously sat on the board of directors of the Social Insurance Fund for Villagers and Nomads, served as secretary of IRIB’s Economic Council, and has been a member of the jurisprudential council of Iran’s insurance industry.
Javad Oji, former CEO of the National Iranian Gas Company, has been put forward for the plum job of Minister of Oil. He has more experience than many others in Raisi’s fledgling cabinet, which makes sense; in the current climate it would be catastrophic for this arm of government to take any risks. Oji is also a staunch opponent of Bijan Zanganeh, Hassan Rouhani’s oil minister. This suggests he might try to usher in symbolic, sweeping changes throughout the petrochemical industry.
Unlike Oji, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, the new Minister of Energy, has no experience in his new department. In fact, it’s not clear at all why he was nominated for this position over other principalists figures already serving in the Ministry of Energy. Mehrabian is the head of a number of companies in the Executive Headquarters of Imam's Directive (Setad) and is close to Mohammad Mokhber, the president's new first deputy.
Issa Zarepour, has been nominated to head up the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. He was previously the head of the Judiciary Statistics and Information Technology Center, and before that the Ministry of Culture’s Information Technology and Digital Media Development Center under Ahmadinejad.
Unfamiliar Names to Take Over Key Portfolios
Raisi handed over executive oversight of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to Mohammad Mehdi Esmaeili, a cleric born in 1975 and a graduate of the prestigious Shahid Motahari High School. The school has trained a number of notable officials in the Islamic Republic including members of the Guardian Council.
Esmaeili previously oversaw systems for evaluating the output of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB’s) polling center, and helped establish facilities for both the IRIB and the Radio and Television Organization. He later served as deputy head of the Presidential Center for Strategic Studies, and the security deputy for the governor of Isfahan. During this period, again in the Ahmadinejad era, he also oversaw Isfahan’s Cyber Headquarters.
Bahram Einolahi, an ophthalmologist, was introduced to parliament as the new Minister of Health. He has few prior claims to fame, but his name appeared seventh on a published list of 2500 Iranian doctors who wrote an open letter opposing the importation of American and British-made vaccines (a view shared by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei).
Hossein Baghgoli, the proposed Minister of Education, is not a well-known figure in the education sector. He was previously managing director of the Razavi Cultural Foundation.
Mohammad Ali Zolfigol, the proposed Minister of Science, born in 1966, has not held down a senior executive position in this ministry before but is understood to have been honored by the Iranian Chemical Association in 2013 for his work in organic chemistry.
Out of the Shadow of Jalili
The proposed interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, is the second commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to take on this brief. Before him, retired IRGC general Mostafa Najar held the role in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet. Vahidi has a stronger paramilitary pedigree and held a more senior rank in the IRGC prior to the move. He is also one of the accused in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Earlier this week Hossein Amir Abdolahian, a figure close to the IRGC’s Quds Force who served in the Ahmadinejad administration and was fired by Rouhani’s foreign minister Javad Zarif, was named early as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Esmail Khatib, the former head of the judiciary's intelligence department, was also named Minister of Intelligence on Monday. Unlike his predecessor in the Rouhani administration, Mahmoud Alavi, Khatib has a background in the ministry and has kept himself out of past political skirmishes. In 2019, Ahmad Marvi, the head of Astan-e Quds Razavi, appointed Khatib as a high advisor and head of security of Astan-e Quds Razavi. His relationships with certain high-profile financiers, including with Reza Motalebi Kashani, the well-connected owner of Tak Macaroni Company, have raised eyebrows in some circles.
Athlete Hamid Sajadi, the new Minister of Sports and Youth, was previously nominated as a minister in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. But he had formerly sent a letter to the Iranian parliament protesting its decision to form the ministry in the first place, and was voted down by MPs in retaliation. Sajadi is a former Asian track and field champion and used to be deputy head of the Physical Education Organization.
Amin Hossein Rahimi, the proposed Minister of Justice, was born in 1968 in Malayer, Hamedan province. He was the principalist MP for Malayer in the eighth Iranian parliament and served as chief prosecutor in the Iranian Court of Audit.
Elsewhere, Raisi elected to appoint an army commander – instead of an IRGC officer – as Minister of Defense, as Rouhani did before him. Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani, born in 1960, has been both the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
No Women; a Few More 40-Year-Old 'Youths'
There are no women among the ministers or deputies in place for Raisi’s administration.
When the first appointments became public knowledge earlier this week, some principalists noted that the cabinet’s average age looked to be older than that of the outgoing Rouhani administration. This might have had a bearing on Raisi’s decision to bring some more junior officials into the fold.
The IRGC-aligned Fars News Agency appeared to criticize the move, publishing a note entitled Why does no one demand the formation of a young cabinet from Raisi?. Part of it read: "A few of us have to admit that our insistence on a ‘young Hezbollahi government’ is no longer a matter of interests, but tainted by political and electoral rivalries, and is more discernibly part of the game of power."
Other conservatives leapt to Raisi’s defense. Ex-nuclear negotiator and presidential hopeful Saeed Jalili tweeted: "If for the young generation of the 1980s, the imposed [Iran-Iraq] war was the arena of defense of the Islamic Revolution, then today, one of the most important arenas of defense... to aid efficiency and lessen the gap between the people and the regime. Revolutionary youth must enter the field."
Regardless of different principalists’ feelings on the appointments, the Supreme Leader has called for the cabinet to be determined with immediate effect. This will be interpreted by the largely servile 11th parliament as an order, not a request.
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