Who Are the Ministers in Iranian President Raisi’s New Cabinet?
© REUTERS / WANA NEWS AGENCYPresidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
© REUTERS / WANA NEWS AGENCY
With Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s inauguration on August 3 and the country facing several immediate crises, including renegotiation of the 2015 nuclear deal, an exploding COVID-19 outbreak, struggling oil sales and the sudden Taliban takeover in neighboring Afghanistan, it was imperative he quickly form a government.
The Iranian Majlis on Wednesday approved nearly all of Raisi’s nominations for cabinet ministers, rejecting just his proposed education minister. The rise of a new administration means the departure of several pillars of Iranian policy, including the former foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
According to the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the confirmation process involved Raisi defending his administration’s programs before the Majlis, including why he nominated each person for each position. Then, five people for and against each nominee argued their case, followed by lawmakers examining the nominee’s qualifications.
After that, a report was prepared by a commission relevant to each ministry, again with two positions for and against the nominee being argued. Finally, the candidate was given 30 minutes to defend their programs and overall philosophy before the Majlis.
The only nominee not accepted was Hossein Baghgoli, who Raisi nominated to head the Education ministry. The others approved included:
Hamidreza Sajadi for Ministry of Sport and Youth
Sajadi represented Iran at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, as well as at numerous other Asian athletic championships as a middle and long-distance runner. He also worked as director of Kish Island Free Zone Organization in Hormozgan Province, was general manager of Saipa F.C. in Tehran, and has served on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO’s) Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport (CIGEPS).
Ahmad Vahidi for Ministry of the Interior
A former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Vahidi also served as defense minister from 2009 until 2013 under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is also president of Supreme National Defense University in Tehran and a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, a body that sorts out differences between the secular Majlis legislature and the Guardian Council, which is composed of powerful religious scholars.
Vahidi was blacklisted by the US government after Interpol accused him of participating in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that killed 85 people. Iran has denied any involvement in the attack
Hossein Amir Abdollahian for Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Amir Abdollahian has held numerous postings in past Iranian governments, including deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs and Secretary-General of the Permanent Secretariat of the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada. He has participated in several past negotiations with the United States, Iraq, and the United Nations, among other missions.
He was also Deputy Foreign Minister under Ali Akbar Salehi at the beginning of Zarif’s tenure, and a close affiliate of the late Maj Gen. Qasem Soleimani. He is currently a professor at the Iranian State Department's School of International Relations and speaks fluent English and Arabic, in addition to his native Persian.
Speaking after his acceptance on Thursday, Abdollahian said he intends to pursue “balanced, dynamic and smart foreign relations based on mutual respect and our priority will be relations with neighbors and Asian countries.”
“We will also expand ties with the rest of the world in a balanced way and will strengthen the place of economic diplomacy and international commerce in the Foreign Ministry,” he added.
Abdollahian also announced he will establish a special commission to oversee importing COVID-19 vaccines, which the Rouhani administration was hesitant to do and instead pursued the development of a domestic vaccine - COVIran Berekat.
Seyed Esmaeil Khatib for Ministry of Intelligence
Khatib previously served as the head of the judiciary’s intelligence unit, according to Al-Arabiya, and as a cleric helped oversee the workings of the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, the world’s largest mosque by area.
Ali Akbar Mehrabian for Ministry of Energy
Mehrabian previously served as Minister of Industries and Mines from 2007 until 2011, during which he pushed a World Oil Bank proposal with Venezuela and Russia and helped build stronger links between Iran and Cuba. He has also proposed switching Iranian automobiles to a compressed natural gas fuel to alleviate petroleum rationing while under US sanctions.
According to the Tehran Times, his proposed four-year plan to massively increase the country’s electrical output by up to 40,000 megawatts was a point of praise during his confirmation hearing.
Ehsan Khandouzi for Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance
A prolific scholar, Khandouzi has written several books on economics, the most famous of which is an introduction to the Quran’s theory of economic justice, a topic he has often written about. He teaches economics at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran and was a member of the Expediency Council before becoming a member of parliament in 2020.
Eisa Zarepour for Ministry of Communication & Information Technology
Another scholar, Zarepour is an assistant professor at Iran University of Science and Technology and a visiting researcher at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Ezzatollah Zarghami for Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts
Zarghami attempted to run against Raisi in the 2020 election, but his candidacy was rejected by the Guardian Council. He is a former deputy minister of culture and lslamic minister, and worked in the defense ministry, as well.
Zarghami joined the IRGC during the war with Iraq and became a military radio anchor; later, he ran the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting from 2004 until 2014. A close friend of Ahamdinejad, reportedly attempted to block former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani from appearing on one of his TV networks due to a disagreement he had with comments Rouhani had made about the arrests of a group of women with whom he disagreed.
Hojjat Abdolmaleki for Ministry of Cooperatives, Labour, and Social Welfare
Abdolmaleki was formerly head of the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation’s office for employment and social welfare.
Mohammad Ali Zolfigol for Ministry of Science, Research and Technology
A chemistry professor, Zolfigol was formerly president of Bu-Ali Sina University.
Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani for Ministry of Defense
Brig. Gen. Ashtiani was appointed deputy chief of the Armed Forces in 2019 and was previously Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army. His appointment is unusual, since his office has been more commonly occupied by IRGC generals.
Javad Sadatinejad for Ministry of Agriculture
Sadatinejad has been a lawmaker representing Isfahan Province since 2016, and is the current speaker for parliament’s Committee for Agriculture.
Bahram Einollahi for Ministry of Health and Medical Education
Einollahi is an optometrist who is well known in the health ministry, according to Xinhua.
He is known to have opposed the importing of foreign-made COVID-19 vaccines in the past, but during his confirmation hearing, he admitted that domestic production of vaccines would be insufficient to meet the country’s needs. He pledged that under his administration, the country’s vaccination campaign will be completed by February 2022.
Einollahi takes office during Iran’s worst outbreak of COVID-19 yet, with daily deaths exceeding 700 and daily new cases exceeding 40,000.
Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili for Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
Esmaili is a known conservative cultural critic, having accused Iran’s dramatic arts of being plagued by “secularism and deviation,” according to Al-Monitor, and contemporary Iranian cinema and music as being insufficiently revolutionary.
A cleric with a degree in political science, Esmaili previously worked for Raisi when he was head of the Astan Quds Razavi charitable trust attached to the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and headed a supervisory body for state-owned media.
Seyed Reza Fatemi Amin for Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade
Amin is a former managing director of the Razavi Economic Organization, the economic wing of the Astan Quds Razavi charitable trust.
Javad Owji for Ministry of Petroleum
Owji has long worked in Iran’s petroleum industry. He is a former managing director of the National Iranian Gas Company and held a senior position at Petro Mofid Development Holding. According to Bloomberg, he was sanctioned by the US last November for his involvement at Sina Energy, a holding of the Bonyad-e Mostazafan Foundation, which is a religious endowment for Iranian war veterans and the poor.
"Following the unfair US sanctions against the Iranian nation, oil and gas condensate sales have considerably decreased and rivals have owned a part of our export markets," Owji told lawmakers during his hearing, according to S&P Global. He said the ministry under him would seek to defend Iranian oil sales by focusing on "oil for goods and oil for investment,” adding, “We will hopefully find new oil markets."
The US has imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports since 2018 intended to reduce them to zero, part of a “maximum pressure” campaign initiated by then-US President Donald Trump, who unilaterally pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran after accusing Tehran of secretly violating the deal. Although negotiations to restore the deal have begun in Vienna under US President Joe Biden, they have been slow-going.
Amir Hossein Rahimi for Ministry of Justice
A former lawmaker who represented the city of Malayer in Hamadan Province, Rahimi also served as chief prosecutor in the Iranian Court of Audit.
Rostam Ghasemi for the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development
Ghasemi has a long history in Iran’s economic ministries, but mostly concerning petroleum. He was president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2011 and oil minister from 2011 to 2013 under Ahmadinejad, later being appointed as an adviser to the defense ministry. He also has a long history in the construction wing of the IRGC, including during the war with Iraq.
He accidentally became the subject of internet memes in Iran after he told lawmakers twice during his hearing that he was ready to lead the petroleum ministry instead of the roads and urban development ministry, according to Al Jazeera.