The Guardian: A 56-year-old conservative cleric relatively unknown to the outside world is quietly emerging as a frontrunner to be Iran’s next supreme leader.

Ebrahim Raisi is the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, the wealthiest charity in the Muslim world and the organisation in charge of Iran’s holiest shrine. It is believed he is being groomed to be a leading candidate to succeed 77-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei’s tenure, which has spanned more than a quarter-century, will end only with his death; but the sudden death on Sunday of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the country’s greatest political survivor, has revived speculation about the succession. In 2014, Khamenei, the country’s ultimate decision-maker and its commander-in-chief, was announced to have undergone prostate surgery, which broke a taboo on the topic.

Rafsanjani, who will be buried on Tuesday, was a major political force in Iran. Although his influence had diminished in recent years as he shifted his political allegiance to reformists, he was still considered to have influence in pushing for a more moderate candidate to succeed Khamenei.

Rafsanjani revealed in a newspaper interview in June that two people had been shortlisted by the assembly of experts, the clerical body in charge of choosing the next supreme leader, although there has been no official confirmation.

Three others touted are ayatollahs Hashemi Shahroudi and Sadeq Larijani, the former and current judiciary chiefs, and the current president, Hassan Rouhani. Raisi is closer to Khamenei’s inner circle but has comparatively little executive experience.

Raisi’s rise in prominence since his appointment in March has surprised many political commentators. He wears a black turban, indicating he is a seyed – a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, in Shia Islam. Mohsen Kadivar, who has taught at Qom seminary, Iran’s most prominent Shia religious hub, said this fact alone increases his chances of gaining the top job by 30 to 40%. Ayatollah Shahroudi is also a seyed.

Hossein Rassam, a former Iran adviser to the British Foreign Office, said Raisi’s current role is a strong platform for his leadership chances. “He is the guardian for a shrine that is the destination of millions of Shia pilgrims every year and I think that is extremely important,” Rassam said. Nearly 30 million pilgrims are estimated to visit Imam Reza each year.

“He has also very close links to key players in the Islamic Republic [of Iran], from the supreme leader himself to the revolutionary guards. All the signs suggest … his chances of becoming the next supreme leader are growing very fast.” >>>