10 Things You Should Know About Iran’s New President

Masoud Pezeshkian

by Team Zeteo: As tensions continue increase across the Middle East, and with Iran-U.S. relations at a low point, here are 10 things you should know about the Islamic Republic’s new president.

1. Pezeshkian was one of only six candidates approved to run for president by Iran’s Guardian Council, which supervises the country’s elections, and the only reformist candidate among them. In Friday’s run-off, he defeated conservative hardliner Saeed Jalili, 53.7% to 44.3%. (Eighty people had tried to run for president but almost all of them were blocked by the Council, including former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

2. While his late predecessor Raisi was a trained cleric, Pezeshkian is a medical doctor – a heart surgeon, in fact. His political career began when he was appointed deputy health minister (1997-2001) and then health minister (2001-2005) in the government of the last reformist Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. He went on to become a five-term member of Iran’s parliament and a deputy speaker.

3. The new president takes a more liberal line on the enforcement of the compulsory headscarf in Iran. “If we want to ‘force’ hijab in the country,” he has said, “I don’t think we will get anywhere.” After the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, Pezeshkian wrote that it was “unacceptable in the Islamic Republic to arrest a girl for her hijab and then hand over her dead body to her family.”

4. Pezeshkian’s campaign slogan is “For Iran,” which is believed to be a not-so-subtle reference to the popular anthem supporting the 2022 Mahsa Amini protests called “Baraye”, or “For.” Shervin Hajipour, the Grammy Awarding-winning Iranian singer-songwriter behind “Baraye,” was sentenced to more than three years in prison in March for “propaganda against the system” and “encouraging people to protest.”

5. The new president says he wants better relations with the West and the United States, in particular, and seems to also want a return to the nuclear deal that Barack Obama signed, Donald Trump tore up, and Joe Biden has refused to resurrect. Pezeshkian even deployed former Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, one of the architects of the deal, as a surrogate on the campaign trail.

6. Pezeshkian, nevertheless, like most Iranian politicians, has a long history of denouncing the United States (aka “The Great Satan”). In 2019, when Iran shot down an American drone, Pezeshkian said “the real terrorist is America” and described the targeting of the drone as “a strong punch in the mouths of the leaders of criminal America.”

7. Pezeshkian, a reformist, isn’t shy about defending the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which has huge power and influence inside of Iran (and was controversially designated a foreign terrorist organization by the Trump administration). The Iran-Iraq War veteran even once wore an IRGC military uniform in parliament as a show of support for the organization, which he says is “different” to what it was in the past.

8. Persians are the ethnic majority in Iran, but Pezeshkian is the son of an Azeri father and a Kurdish mother, and fluent in both Azeri and Kurdish. “I am not voting for Dr Pezeshkian because I am a Turk,” one Azeri voter told IranWire, “but because if he is elected, he will be the president of the oppressed and discriminated minority of this country.”

9. Like President Joe Biden, who lost his wife and young daughter in a car crash in 1972, the new Iranian president also lost his wife and young daughter in a car crash in 1994. Unlike Biden, however, Pezeshkian “never remarried and raised his remaining two sons and a daughter alone.”

10. Pezeshkian may have won his race thanks to a late surge in voter turnout. The first round of the election saw the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, just 40%. But on Friday, in the run-off, it bumped up to around 50%. For some Iranians, reported the Washington Post, “refusing to vote is an act of opposition in a country that quells political protests with violent force.” Others have embraced political apathy because of the failure of multiple presidents from across the political spectrum to effect social or economic change.

Pezeshkian has acknowledged the challenge ahead. “I will do everything possible to look at those who were not seen by the powerful and whose voices are not heard,” he told supporters earlier this week.

But what does “everything possible” look like for an elected Iranian president inside of a political system where most of the power remains in the hands of an unelected Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei? Can the Islamic Republic’s first reformist president for 19 years offer real hope or change to almost 90 million Iranians, more than half of whom are under the age of 30? That remains to be seen. And how will the United States respond to an Iranian leader who wants to mend ties with the West?

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