Iran’s government loses two top politicians in the helicopter crash. Her death could shake up the power structure.

With the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian, the leadership of Iran has lost two figures who shaped the foreign and domestic policy of the Islamic Republic. In dense fog, their helicopter disappeared from radar on Sunday afternoon. On Monday morning, state media confirmed the deaths of the two. There was initially no exact information about the cause of the accident.

Due to protests, military tensions in the Middle East and a severe economic crisis, Iran is in an ongoing state of crisis. What does the president’s death mean for the country?

Thousands of government supporters flocked to Iran’s religious centers and mosques on Monday night, praying for the president and fearing the worst. State media praised Raisi’s tenure, which was marred by allegations of mismanagement and severe repression. In his previous role as public prosecutor, he is said to have been responsible for numerous arrests and executions of political dissidents in 1988, which is why his opponents gave him the nickname “Butcher of Tehran”.

Even though the younger generation’s criticism is now increasingly directed against the entire system of the Islamic Republic, Raisi was particularly under pressure domestically. Recently, the government pushed forward with its controversial policy of forcing people to wear headscarves, thereby alienating parts of the population even more. Numerous Iranians reacted to the news with glee on social media.

Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei transferred official duties to Raisi’s first deputy Mohammed Mochber on Monday and instructed him to organize new elections within 50 days together with the head of the judiciary and parliament.

Unlike in many countries, the president in Iran is not the head of state, but rather the head of government. The real power is concentrated in the state leadership with Khamenei at the top.

Iran’s elite armed forces, the Revolutionary Guards, have also become an economic empire with great power in recent decades. Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, who most recently played a leading role as a negotiator in the nuclear negotiations with the West, was appointed acting foreign minister.

A violent power struggle is likely to break out with Raisi’s death, wrote Iran expert Arash Azizi in an analysis for the US magazine “The Atlantic”. Raisi’s passivity has encouraged challengers among the hardliners. They would see his weak presidency as an opportunity. “Raisi’s death would change the balance of power between factions within the Islamic Republic,” it said before Iranian state media confirmed Raisi’s death.

In the parliamentary elections in March, a camp of fundamentalist and conservative religious politicians, who are also close to Raisi, once again prevailed. These previously relatively unknown MPs could try to gain more political influence. Moderate politicians from the reform camp have recently become increasingly weaker, also because the Guardian Council – a powerful control body made up of ultra-conservative scholars – has increasingly restricted their candidacies.

The incumbent speaker of parliament, Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf, who performed poorly in the parliamentary elections, has long had ambitions to become president. Many people are already disillusioned after failed reform attempts in recent decades and stayed away from the parliamentary vote in protest.

According to Azizi, many observers only expected a violent power struggle when the head of state Khamenei died. The religious leader, who has the final say on all strategic matters, turned 85 in April. Raisi was considered a potential successor. “Now we will likely see at least a dress rehearsal in which the various factions will demonstrate their strength,” Azizi wrote.

Hamidreza Azizi, visiting researcher at the Berlin Foundation for Science and Politics, does not see any serious changes in Iran’s political system, since the important decisions are made by Khamenei and the powerful Revolutionary Guards anyway. Overall, the impact of Raisi’s death is “neither fundamental nor a decisive blow to the system,” Azizi wrote on