A new and powerful figure has joined the list of candidates among Iranian conservatives for the May presidential election: Ebrahim Raisi, a senior cleric who has gradually risen through the ranks to assume powerful positions. Born in the holy city of Mashhad in northeast Iran — home to the shrine of the eighth Shiite imam — Raisi started his career as the prosecutor general of Karaj — a city just west of the capital city, Tehran — two years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 2004, Raisi was appointed as the first deputy of judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. When incumbent Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani took over the judiciary in 2009, Raisi remained as the first deputy.
In 2016, following the death of Ayatollah Abbas Vaez Tabasi, Raisi was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as custodian of the shrine of the eighth Shiite imam. The manager of the shrine in Mashhad is one of the most powerful people in Iran, as he oversees the holiest site in Iran — which also engages in major economic activities. Following the naming of Raisi as custodian of the shrine, Western media speculated that Raisi is likely to become the next supreme leader of Iran. One op-ed in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2016, stated, “This appointment not only enhances Raisi’s national profile but also puts at his disposal enormous funds that he can use to nurture his own network of supporters and constituents.” In this vein, Ayatollah Khamenei notably served as president from 1981 to 1989, when he became supreme leader.