Thousands march in Iran to mourn Raisi on final day of funeral rites

President Ebrahim Raisi died on Sunday, along with the foreign minister, after his helicopter crashed near the Azerbaijan border.

Mourners attend a funeral for victims of the helicopter crash
Mourners attend a funeral for victims of the helicopter crash that killed Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and others, in Tehran, Iran, on May 22, 2024 [Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

Thousands have marched in Iran for the final day of funeral rites for President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash earlier this week.

Raisi, 63, died on Sunday alongside his foreign minister and six others when their helicopter crashed in the country’s mountainous northwest while returning from a dam inauguration.

Thousands of people, holding placards of Raisi and waving flags, marched in the eastern city of Birjand on Thursday morning to bid him farewell.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who announced five days of mourning for those who died in the crash, led prayers in Tehran on Wednesday for Raisi’s funeral.

Raisi will be laid to rest at the holy shrine of Imam Reza, a mausoleum in the city of Mashhad, where the ultraconservative president was born.

He will become the first top politician in the country to be buried at the shrine, representing a significant honour for the former leader.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian will also be buried on Thursday at the shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim in the town of Shahr-e Rey.

Iranian officials and foreign dignitaries paid their respects to the late diplomat at a Tehran ceremony before the burial.

A woman holds a poster of the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi
A woman holds a poster of Raisi during a funeral ceremony for him, in Tehran on May 22, 2024 [Vahid Salemi/AP]

Raisi’s death comes at a time of worsening strain between the clerical leadership and broader society, aggravated by tightening political and social controls.

Vice President Mohammad Mokhber took over as caretaker president on Monday, while Ali Bagheri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister until the June 28 election.

Seyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, a senior foreign policy analyst, told Al Jazeera from Tehran that people in Iran are feeling a sense of “unity” following Raisi’s death.

He added that Iran’s foreign policy strategy would not change following Amirabdollahian’s death and that his replacement would be expected to reach the same diplomatic expertise.

“Of course, it will be hard for the next foreign minister because Amirabdollahian proved to be [a] yardstick and everyone will compare [with him],” Khoshcheshm said. “He [the next foreign minister] needs to also be a very industrious, working foreign minister, whoever it will be.”

Al Jazeera’s Ali Hashem, reporting from Tehran, also said the Iranian establishment wanted to form “parallel lives”, with Iranians mourning for Raisi while getting ready for an election, which had not been expected until next year.

“The main thing here is the establishment doesn’t want the feeling of uncertainty to dominate and, of course, [cause] a vacuum. In fact, Iranians are very sensitive to vacuums, and that’s why we’re seeing them announcing elections in less than the 50-day period – it’s going to be in a month and a few days.

“Given the election is on the way, the days coming will witness the registration of candidacies. People of course are circulating names, namely from the conservative camp,” Hashem said.

During the presidency of Raisi, who was elected in 2021, the country witnessed mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchange with Israel.

Before his death, Raisi was also widely expected to succeed Ayatollah Khamenei.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies