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Raisi’s ghost looms like a martyr over Iran’s election

Thousands of Iranians came out on the streets to mark the funeral processions of Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, Mashhad, and Tabriz, after he died in a helicopter crash alongside the foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian.

During these processions, huge banners were put up naming Raisi as “the martyr of service”, while other banners carried phrases such as “farewell to the servant of the disadvantaged.”

The status of martyr of service means his death was caused by his duty to serve the public as president.

In Iran, the martyr narrative is a long-recognized concept in religious tales, politics and literature. The Iranian leadership appears to be trying to use Raisi’s death on May 19 – and his martyrdom – as a way of creating more public support in the upcoming election, and potentially prompt a higher turnout on June 28.

Raisi was a political hardliner and was close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Shortly after the crash, he was declared a martyr on Iranian state TV and was buried in his home city of Mashhad at Iran’s largest Shia shrine, Imam Reza.

Imam Reza is Iran’s spiritual capital and has great significance for the country’s history, culture and politics. So the formal announcement of Raisi’s martyrdom at the shrine is significant.

Government statements after the crash underlined how it wanted to cast Raisi’s death as an almost religious moment. A statement from the Iranian foreign ministry said that: “The esteemed martyrs of the bitter and tragic incident sincerely gave up their blessed lives to serve Islam and beloved Iran, and they have achieved the great blessing of martyrdom in the path of honest and sincere service to the noble nation of Iran.”

Martyrdom as a concept is drawn