A barrier formed by buses blocked the path of Enqelab – or Revolution – Avenue near the University of Tehran. A crowd gathered until it was impossible to move. Some searched, with difficulty, for alternate streets that would take them out of the tumult and lead them to other points of the boulevard along which the coffins of President Ibrahim Raisi and his seven companions who died in the fateful plane crash last Sunday would later parade.

Others, many of them entire families, sat on the asphalt and sidewalks to listen to the prayers that came from the loudspeakers, reproducing what was happening inside the large warehouse where Friday prayers have been held in Tehran for decades. Thousands of people were also waiting there, although more organized, as could be seen on the cell phone carried by Marzieh, a 26-year-old woman who did not take off from the screen. “The Leader will arrive soon,” said the woman, who kept looking at the screen. She followed each of the images that state television broadcast. A close-up of Raisi’s black turban, which identifies him as a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, on his coffin.

Among those attending were the senior staff of the Islamic Republic with the exception of the former presidents. No sign of Mohamed Khatami, reformist; nor of Hasan Rohani, moderate; nor of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a radical populist who fought with the authorities. Nor from other important figures of the Nizam (the system). Yes, from the majority of leaders of the institutions, from the military leadership, and some religious people. Everyone was waiting for the nation’s highest figure, who would lead the funeral at 9 in the morning.

“I am consoled that the supreme leader is here, I have a lot of faith in him,” said Masoumeh Nouri, 33, who arrived from the city of Qazvin, north of the capital. “People told me not to come, that it would be difficult, but I couldn’t find peace. I felt that the minimum was to accompany him,” said this woman who was sitting next to her sister. Both held a poster of Raisi and both claimed that they had not stopped crying since his death was confirmed. His feelings contrasted with a multitude of Iranians who oppose the system, who have been victims of repression and exclusion from it, and who did not forget the decisions made by Raisi when he held senior positions in the judicial sector.

But yesterday was called to be his day. Each of the mottos and songs remembered him as someone who had dedicated his life to helping the population. In the various posters that were distributed by the thousands among attendees, he could be seen alongside Qasem Suleimani, the extremely popular former commander of the Qods forces, killed by a US drone in Iraq in 2020; together with the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, but also with ordinary citizens with whom he had chatted on his different visits to the provinces, something he did very frequently, as was the case on the trip in which he died.

Although Raisi was followed by a limited sector of the population that identified with the conservative and extreme ideas he represented, he was never characterized by his charisma. Or to awaken passions as Khatami or Ahmadinejad did at the time. Raisi always had high positions but did not have much luck at the polls. In the 2017 elections he lost to then-president Rohani, and in 2021 he won after the Guardian Council was in charge of eliminating any opponent who could overshadow him. He won with the lowest participation ever. One of the many symptoms that a large sector of the population has lost faith in political institutions and especially in the figure of the president, who is not only approved in advance by the Council of Experts, but is increasingly subordinated. to opinions from within the system on matters of international politics, defense, etc. In many of these areas the president and his cabinet have little to say. And that sector of the population that has distanced itself from the polls understands this perfectly. Even so, no one doubted that Raisi could replace Ayatollah Khamenei the day he is missing.

“Raisi has become a martyr who will show us the way forward in the Islamic Republic, he will be even more valuable as a martyr than as president,” explained Mohsen, 38 years old and from one of the satellite towns of Tehran. Like many, he cried when he began to speak.

This was also the case for Ali, who arrived with his wife and young children. “He was our president and he sacrificed himself for Iran.” Ali had managed to escape the tumult through the surrounding streets, where security forces, including militiamen known as basijis, prevented access to people looking for a way to get to the university, and he located himself on a sidewalk near the Azadi square, where the funeral procession would arrive. There he could see the flower-covered floats passing by in which they transported the coffins with the flag of the Islamic Republic. As the caravan passed by, people went crazy throwing any object, especially handkerchiefs or kufiyas, so that the guards would touch the coffins with them and return them back. Rivers of people followed them. A crowd rarely seen in the mobilizations of recent years, and that could only be compared with the even larger funeral of General Suleimani. That day it was impossible for the crowd to advance.

“We Iranians have a belief, he who works hard with his heart, even if he does not achieve his goals, remains in our hearts,” explained Zahra, Ali’s wife, who like most of the women present was covered in the chador of traditional, religious women.

Among the attendees, it was evident, there were not women who ask for freedoms, including choosing how to dress. “I hope this funeral shows people in the West what is happening in Iran. If they do not realize this reality, of the people they see here, they cannot have a clear relationship with Iran,” concluded Masud, a university professor who, along with his young children, had managed to make his way through the crowd and was walking away along a neighboring street.