Ebrahim Raisi took the oath of office on Thursday to become Iran’s eighth president, swearing to guard the Iranian constitution and serve his country’s people.
He is taking the helm at a critical time as Iran struggles with its fifth wave of Covid-19 and the economic impact of US sanctions.
Mr Raisi’s presidency marks the end of eight years of reformist policies under his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, and solidifies the ascendancy of hardliners in all branches of the government after the 2020 parliamentary election.
“We want to stabilise the economy and attain self-sustainability,” he said, in his first speech, to Iranian and foreign dignitaries at the Parliament in Tehran.
Echoing his campaign promises, he called for national unity between the public and politicians.
Mr Raisi will oversee negotiations on Washington’s possible return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which could lead to the relief of US sanctions.
He is expected to present his proposed cabinet to Parliament within the next two weeks, setting the tone for his presidency and giving an indication to world leaders of how his four-year term may play out.
Mr Raisi had promised his Cabinet would be inclusive of all factions, but it is expected to comprise conservatives and hardliners.
Government offices closed and police blocked all roads leading to Parliament for security before the swearing-in ceremony, which was attended by representatives of 73 countries.
They included Iraqi President Barham Salih and the speaker of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Parliament, Rivas Qaeq; Syrian Parliament Speaker Hammouda Sabbagh, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Russian Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, Omani Foreign Minister Badr Albusaidi and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Lebanon’s Caretaker Agriculture Minister, Abbas Mortada; Thandi Modise, Speaker of the Parliament of South Africa; and Mohammad Barkindo, Secretary General of Opec; Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abdul Rahman; and a Vatican representative also attended.
Naeem Qassem, the Vice President of Hezbollah in Lebanon, was also at the ceremony with Mohammad Abdul Salam, the special envoy of the Houthis in Yemen.
EU diplomat and nuclear deal negotiator Enrique Mora also attended the event, despite pushback from a number of human rights groups and Israel.
Mr Rouhani’s presidency was marked by the negotiation of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers. But his later years in office were marred by a deepening economic and social crisis after former US president Donald Trump withdraw the country from the deal and decided to impose sanctions on Tehran.
Mr Raisi’s election victory was officially endorsed by supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday.
“We believe the people’s economic position is unfavourable, both because of the hostility of our enemies and because of the shortcomings and problems inside the country,” Mr Rouhani said that day.
Since his campaign for the presidency began, Mr Raisi had said he would continue nuclear talks but would “not tie the nation’s standard of living to the will of foreigners”.
During his inauguration speech, he restated his willingness to have the sanctions removed.
“The sanctions must be lifted and we support any diplomatic initiative that supports this,” he said.
Mr Raisi gave further insight into his foreign policy stances by calling regional diplomacy a “priority” and a focus for his administration. He went on to say that regional crises should be dealt without foreign intervention.
Iranians are battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than four million cases and upwards of 92,000 deaths. Less than four per cent of Iranians have been vaccinated and the country is expected to go into lockdown after the inauguration.
Mr Raisi led a coronavirus task force meeting on Wednesday and met ministers of the departing administration to prepare for taking office.
Despite his strong rhetoric at his inauguration and his vow to solve the problems the previous administration was unable to remedy, Mr Raisi’s success as president will ultimately be tied to his ability to alleviate economic pain as quickly as possible.
High unemployment, the devalued currency and worsening water scarcity will be among the most urgent issues he will have to take on from the start.