“For now, the head of state prefers to say only that we can solve problems and go on a provincial trip and visit. The fact is that these visits only prove to everyone that the head of state does not know the real situation in the country.” (Hamdeli, September 1, 2021)
The Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi flew across Iran last Friday to visit the city of Ahvaz in Khuzestan province, sparking suspicions of a PR stunt.
During his campaign in the run-up to the presidential elections in June, Raisi was insistent in getting the Iranian people on his side, mostly in a bid to curtail revolts. Since 2017, there have been a large number of nationwide uprisings, and the regime is constantly in fear of future popular revolts. As a result, phrases such as ‘reaching out to people’, ‘working with people’ and ‘talking to people’ were consistent features in Raisi’s campaign speeches.
Iranians, as well as political observers, still remember how Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president after Khomeini’s death, called himself ‘the Builder-in-Chief’, trying to pose as the man-to-go for building up a nation that had lost several hundred thousand lives and more than 1 trillion in treasure to war with Iraq.
Looking at Raisi’s predecessors, they’ve all had their attempts at trying to manipulate Iranian citizens. Mohammad Khatami, who replaced Rafsanjani, was identified as ‘a reformist’ who tried his best to stifle the pleas for social and political freedom in Iran, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who followed him, painted himself as ‘the man of the people’. Even Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to connect with society seemed to hit a nerve. As for Ebrahim Raisi himself, barely anyone respects him anymore.
By choosing the Khuzestan province, Raisi showed where the regime fears most that an uprising could be imminent.
July of this year saw demonstrations taking place in cities across Khuzestan with protesters, who were extremely fed up with the power outages and water shortages, leading chants of ‘Death to Khamenei’. Protesters clashed with security forces at many of those protests, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people, hundreds injured, and many others being arrested and sent to the regime’s prisons.
Reacting to Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Khuzestan, a local member in the parliament called the trip “a show” and said that “these short, one-day trips will not solve Khuzestan’s problems” and called on the government to stop the practice.
In a post on the state-run website, Aftab News, there was a quote from MP Majid Naserinejad who said, “Problems such as sewage issues, unemployment, drought, the destruction of palm trees, etc. are problems which need constant attention and major decisions.”
Although not officially confirmed, reactions on social media indicated concerns about increasing pressure on the people of the province and the suppression of popular protests following the appointment.
Raisi, on his travels around the province, vowed that he would solve the unemployment problem that residents of Khuzestan are facing by expanding industries and agriculture opportunities. Upon leaving Khuzestan after his visit, he headed back to Tehran to take part in press activities, leaving behind the province that has been ravaged by droughts and poverty.
He didn’t explain why these problems exist and what he’d done through four decades of his tenure in the highest office of the country’s judicial system. Nor did he explain what his true plans are for the province. But if history is any guide, the future will prove that all his staging has been in vain.