When Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was pronounced dead May 20 after his helicopter crashed in the thickly forested mountains of northeastern Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced five days of mourning. Iranian state television dutifully followed suit by showing image after image of citizens grieving the president, who was known as “the Butcher of Tehran” for his role in the killing of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. During this official mourning period, entertainment and sports programming was preempted on television and radio, cinemas and museums were closed, and wedding ceremonies were forcibly postponed. 

Deeply unpopular, these measures hardly endeared the people of Iran to the late president and the regime he represented. Weddings are big business in Iran. People save for years to put on the most lavish ceremony they can, and the enforced five-day moratorium led to widespread outcries by people who lost nonrefundable deposits paid to caterers, venues and entertainers.  

As the late president’s body toured the country, the regime made sure that large crowds of “supporters” — usually paid stooges of the regime or those who work for the state and are forced to attend — were on hand to display dramatic gestures of mourning. These were interspersed with televised (and social-media-distributed) images of Raisi’s mother tearing at her chest and beating her head.

The Islamic regime’s attempt to control the narratives around Raisi’s life and death, at home and abroad, has been notably shaky.

The regime’s image operation, much of it amplified in Western media, was not reflected in the homes and hearts of everyday Iranians, most of whom started celebrating the moment it was reported that the helicopter carrying Raisi — who presided over brutal human rights violations, worsening corruption and a free-falling economy — was missing in the fog over the Varzaqan region. Rather than publicly mourning, they set off fireworks and posted videos of themselves dancing. The families of those killed in the Woman Life Freedom protests were particularly prominent, despite strong state pressure exerted to keep them quiet.

Iranians in the diaspora were even more explicit: Footage posted online showed people dancing in Paris, London, Frankfurt, Los Angeles and Toronto. A viral social media video captured Mersedeh Shahinkar and Sima Moradbeigi — both injured by Iranian security forces during the 2022 protests — dancing joyfully at the news of Raisi’s death. 

In England and the U.S., meanwhile, regime supporters attacked protestors at mourning ceremonies held for Raisi. In London, four people were injured and one was arrested after an attack on a group of anti-government protestors by pro-regime supporters. Washington, D.C., saw confrontations outside the Iranian embassy between supporters of the Islamic Republic and protesters: Social media footage shows a man standing near a police officer making a throat-cutting gesture, which could be seen as a threat to protestors.

The Islamic regime’s attempt to control the narratives around Raisi’s life and death, at home and abroad, has been notably shaky. Not even the regime’s best efforts could hide the reality that even in Iran’s major cities, attendance at the late president’s countrywide funeral tour was visibly poor.

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