WHO ARE YOU, MR. RAISI? THE NEW PRESIDENT OF IRAN THROUGH THE PRISM OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Author: Leonid Tsukanov

Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Ural Young Middle East Researchers Association

On June 18, the next presidential elections were held in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). As a result of the popular will, Ibrahim Raisi, who previously held the post of head of the judiciary, was elected as a president of the country.

Few doubted the victory of I. Raisi: at the beginning of June, he was promised the presidency as a person whose nomination was personally approved by the Supreme Leader of Iran A. Khamenei. On the other hand, it cannot be said that the country’s population is satisfied with the results of the elections: in the Persian-speaking segment of the Internet, one can increasingly find sarcastic statements and caricatures associated with I. Raisi. As a result, in such conditions, the study of dominant sentiments in social networks becomes especially relevant.

Of course, a snapshot of sentiment in social media is not in itself an exhaustive indicator, but it allows us to fill in the gaps in the information field (especially taking into account the specifics of the Iranian political system), as well as to determine the dominant sentiments in society and compare them with the image broadcast through the media.

Methodology

To conduct the research, a primary query library was developed. It includes personal (“Raisi”, “Khamenei”, “Rezai”, etc.), political (“protest”, “elections”, “unrest”, etc.), socio-economic (“reforms”, “economy”, “Gasoline”) and geographical (“Iran”, “Iranian”, “Tehran”, “Qom”, “Mashhad”, etc.) lexemes. In total, about 50 objects were included in the query bank (excluding operator words and exclusion words). Subsequently, all the elements of the complex query were translated into the main languages ​​(Persian and English).

To collect the primary array, the author used special programs for monitoring social media (for example, eMedia Monitor and Cision Communications Cloud), as well as manual search tools. In addition, SaaS systems (in particular, Awario) were additionally used to automatically cut off “junk” messages (spam), “one-day” accounts and forum aggregators.

As for the chronological framework for the study, the author analyzed the period from 18 to 26 June 2021. The interval was chosen due to the fact that it is in the first few days after the end of the presidential race that the reaction of the population to the fact of being elected can be most effectively evaluated without “layering” on it the impressions of the first decisions of Ibrahim Raisi at the presidency.

Election results: security officials, theologians and the future of the country

According to official data, 28,993,004 people voted in the last elections, the turnout was 48.8%. On the one hand, this figure turned out to be slightly higher than expected (during the pre-election period, the estimated turnout ranged from 32 to 38.5%), and allowed Iranian officials to describe the voting process as “successful”. On the other hand, during the voting, according to various estimates, from 3.7 to 4.1 million ballots were spoiled (for comparison: the “silver medalist” of the presidential race received 3.41 million votes), which can be considered the largest act of sabotage in the entire history of the electoral process in Iran.

As noted above, the head of the judiciary, Ibrahim Raisi, won by a wide margin (72.4% of the vote). The second place (13.78%) was taken by the Secretary of the Council of Political Expediency, General, former commander-in-chief of the IRGC Mohsen Rezai. The head of the Iranian Central Bank Abdolnaser Hemmati and the deputy of parliament Amirhossein Kazizade-Hashemi took the third (9.8%) and fourth (4.02%) places (see Chart 1).

Chart 1. Results of the presidential elections in Iran (2021).

According to users of Iranian social media, the results of the past elections very well demonstrated the alignment of political forces within the country. First, the conservatives, representing the theological wing, have repeatedly strengthened their positions, while the reformist candidates who were not allowed to participate in the elections, in fact, found themselves “overboard” of political life. Secondly, the “power bloc” showed itself in the person of M. Rezai, who overcame the threshold of 10% of the electorate. Many users saw this as a hint that in the next election, the presidential chair may well be taken by a member of the security forces. One way or another, the return of the reformists to big politics is hardly foreseen in the near future.

In general, the Iranians are increasingly paying attention to the deepening gap between the government and the people: the refusal of 52% of the country’s population to take part in the elections (which is positioned by users as a movement of ignorance), as well as the general spoilage of ballots, partly reflect this trend.

Overall satisfaction with election results

To understand the degree of satisfaction of the Iranian society with the results of the presidential elections in 2021, it is necessary to analyze the tone in which this topic is discussed on social networks, as well as correlate the results with the data obtained as a result of media monitoring (see Chart 2).

In both cases, the sentiment of messages was determined automatically, and post factum was refined using several SaaS systems (thus, the error in determining the tone of the publication is less than 2%).

Chart 2. Reaction to the news about the election of I. Raisi in the media and social media, %.

As can be seen from the above diagram (see Chart 2), the news about the election of I. Raisi are presented in the national media in a positive-neutral key – moreover, positive messages prevail. About 4% of the negative is most likely transmitted by opposition (for example, “Akhbar Rooz” newspaper), and these publications do not greatly change the final picture.

On social media, the situation is reversed. Messages with a negative tone dominate here (44.7%), and about a third of the array (41.3%) are articles with a neutral tone. The rest (about 14%) are positive materials. Nevertheless, it should be additionally indicated that a significant share of positive and neutral publications (about 40-45%) are materials posted in the official accounts of Iranian political and public figures, as well as government bodies and the media, while ordinary users social media share such sentiments much less often. So, if we exclude verified accounts and media accounts from the array, the final sentiment layout will look like this (see Chart 3).

Chart 3. Reaction to the news of the election of I. Raisi in social media (without verified accounts).

In this case, publications with a negative tone will account for more than half of the entire array (57.1%). At the same time, there is a decrease in the share of messages with a neutral tone by almost 2 times (from 41.3% to 24.2%). As an opposite trend, we can note a slight increase in materials of a positive nature (+ 4.7%), but the frequency of their publication is significantly inferior to negative ones.

At the same time, the age composition of the authors is also quite indicative: among the authors of negative publications, young people aged 21 to 27 years prevail, while positive materials are most often published by middle-aged people (30–35 years old).

As a result, we can observe that the perception of the situation by Iranian citizens is fundamentally different from what is broadcast at the official level through the media. In addition, the growing discontent among the country’s young population is fraught with the intensification of the protest movement.

Who are you, Mr. Raisi?

In total, during the period under review, about 1.5 million publications were recorded, in which I. Raisi appears. Subsequently, on the basis of an in-depth analysis of the data obtained, 10 characteristics were identified, which were most often mentioned alongside the name of the elected President of Iran (See Chart 4).

Chart 4. Ibrahim Raisi as rated by social media users.

 As expected, the most common characteristic that is put on a par with the name of the new Iranian president is “conservative.” This object has been mentioned a total of almost 140 thousand times. In such publications, I. Raisi is often compared with the previous president of the country H. Rouhani: opinions, trying to assess how the coming to power of the conservatives will affect the position of Iran in the world.

The second most popular object “Raisi is the successor” (82.8 thousand cases of mention). The Iranians point out that the presidency is a “transit” position for I. Raisi, and he may well become the next Supreme Leader of Iran (especially since A. Khamenei himself approves such a scenario). Consequently, according to users, Raisi is unlikely to be actively transforming public life: his task at the moment is to maximize the camp of supporters and gain a foothold in the highest echelons of power, so that in the future no one will try to challenge his right to become a rahbar.

The objects “defender” and “leader” received practically the same coverage (64.8 and 64.3 thousand references). Patriotic users (among whom, by the way, there are quite a few young people aged 18 to 24) believe that I. Raisi will be able to effectively defend the country’s interests in the international arena, as well as revise agreements that are unfavorable for Iran.

At the same time, the sample also contains negative characteristics. For example, the object “Raisi is the Executioner” is relatively common (50,000 references). Users recall the participation of the new president in the work of the so-called. The “death commission” (1988), which sentenced several thousand opponents of the regime to death (according to the data of the human rights organization “Amnesty International”, the number of those executed is up to 3.8 thousand people). In fact, this also includes the characteristic “Raisi is a murderer” (24.5 thousand mentions), containing similar charges, as well as an indication that personal sanctions were imposed against him in 2019 by the US and the EU for systematic violation of human rights.

However, the object “Raisi is a keeper” is opposed to negative characteristics. In this case, the activities of I. Raisi in previous positions (head of the judiciary, head of the Astan Quds Rezavi charitable foundation, etc.), as well as his contribution to the protection of traditional Muslim values, come to the fore.

The “conciliator” characterization closes the top ten popular objects – users of Iranian social media express the hope that the new president, being an experienced and cautious politician, will be able to overcome the split and smooth out the degree of tension between conservatives and reformists.

In addition, it should be noted that the concept “Raisi – the Chosen One” is gradually gaining popularity in Iranian social media – this object did not enter the top ten, but the gap with the 10th place in the rating is currently less than 1.5%. In accordance with this approach, the Iranian president is prescribed to have a certain special connection with the higher powers, which gives his person a special status. In fact, I. Raisi is gradually beginning to be positioned as the Chosen One (previously he was endowed with similar characteristics with A. Khamenei, who was considered the incarnation of Said from Khorasan) – it is quite possible that such a trend is one of the stages of I. Raisi’s “transit” to the post of Supreme Leader.

Thus, the snapshot of the social media agenda shows that, despite the prevailing negative tone (which, to a greater extent, is associated with the organization of the election race than with the personality of I. Raisi himself), the Iranians pin certain hopes on the new president and see him a figure who will stay on the political scene for a long time.

Considering that by the end of Rouhani’s second term, the country actually returned to its original positions on a number of key issues (the future of the national nuclear program, the country’s withdrawal from isolation, etc.), the pragmatist Raisi is unlikely to try to radically transform the foreign policy of the state, but rather will focus on consolidating earlier agreements and further pulling the country out of isolation.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

Articles: 14402

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *