Tuesday, January 02, 2018

WSJ: Iran's Theocracy Is on the Brink

Iran has a peculiar habit of surprising Americans. It has done so again with the protests engulfing its major cities. The demonstrations began over economic grievances and quickly transformed into a rejection of theocracy.

The slogans must have unsettled the mullahs: "Death to Khamenei!" "Death to Rouhani!" "We will die to get our Iran back!" Imperialism has not revived the regime's legitimacy, as the protesting Persians pointedly reject expending their meager resources on Arab wars: "Death to Hezbollah!" "No to Gaza, not Lebanon! Our life only for Iran!"

However the events on the streets unfold, their most immediate casualty will be the presidency of Hassan Rouhani and its false claim of pragmatic governance.


In the aftermath of the Green Revolution of 2009, which rocked the foundations of the Islamic Republic, a sinister argument was gradually fed into Western salons and chancelleries. The convulsions of that summer, the claim went, were over no more than electoral irregularity. With the election of the so-called moderate Mr. Rouhani in 2013, the system rebalanced itself. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his allies supposedly learned some hard lessons on the need to yield to popular mandates. Iranians want gradual change, we have been told by the media, and believe that the system's own constitutional provisions and plebiscites can be used to nudge it toward moderation. This argument was wrong.

Last week, Iranians took to the streets.

As with the Soviet Union in its last days, the Islamic Republic can no longer appeal to its ideals; it relies only on its security services for survival. That is deadly for a theocracy, by definition an ideological construct. Ideological authoritarian states need a vision of the future by which their enforcers can condone their own violence. The theocracy's vast patronage system will not cure this crisis of legitimacy. In many ways, Mr. Rouhani was the ruling clergy's last gasp, a beguiling mullah who could enchant Westerners while offering Iranians some hope. That hope has vanished.


From the article:

Every decade of the Islamist regime's rule has seen one of its political factions lose its legitimacy through national uprisings. In the 1980s, the Islamic Republic waged a determined civil war against liberals and secularists who sought to redeem the revolution's pledge of a democratic order. The student riots of 1999 ended the reformist interlude and Mohammad Khatami's presidency, which had promised that the expansion of civil society and elections would harmonize faith and freedom. The reformists lingered as discredited enablers of a repressive regime, but no one believed in their promises of change from within. The hard-liners offered their own national compact, one that privileged economic justice over political emancipation. But the tumultuous presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad produced only corruption and bellicosity.

Then came Mr. Rouhani and his centrist disciples with their pledge to revive the economy, primarily through foreign investment. Mr. Rouhani needed a nuclear agreement to lift debilitating sanctions and stimulate commerce. The Obama administration was happy to deliver, and Iran received tens of billions of dollars in financial dividends, including $1.7 billion in paper currency. Instead of channeling that wealth into productive uses, Ayatollah Khamenei, the clerical establishment and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps consumed much of it on foreign adventurism and corruption.

Mr. Rouhani made a crucial mistake: overpromising and underdelivering on both economic and political reforms. His modest experiment in centrist rule has come crashing down, taking with it his injunction that all must trust the system. The regime is at an impasse. It has no more political actors -- no establishment saviors -- to offer its restless constituents.

If this is the beginning of the end for the Theocracy, then there may be hope for a more stable Middle East if Iran's support for Syria/Hezbollah/Houthi dries up.

#1 | Posted by Rightocenter at 2018-01-02 12:38 PM

I think believing in a end to the theocratic regime is a little optimistic. The government's security apparatus is extensive, organized down to every neighborhood and village. Some are clerics and others are informants. Then they have the para military thugs to call upon long before they engage their Army. These "committees ageist vice and the protection of virtue" are manned, armed and work clandestinely. They were the shock troops during the revolution and stand to loose what they have if there is a change. Expect bloodshed and a continuation of the Mullah's rule. Tyranny isn't cast off with good wishes, noble ideals or popular approval, it requires men with guns, killing other men with guns.

#2 | Posted by docnjo at 2018-01-02 03:50 PM

Expect bloodshed and a continuation of the Mullah's rule. Tyranny isn't cast off with good wishes, noble ideals or popular approval, it requires men with guns, killing other men with guns.

I don't think you wrong in the short term, but as an article in today's LA Times points out,

Iran's economy has continued to sputter despite the 2015 nuclear agreement that eased international sanctions, and the government is increasingly seen as making things worse -- tolerating corruption while supporting costly proxy wars overseas. The resulting public frustration has bubbled over into six days of protests that have left at least 21 people dead, state TV reported Tuesday.

The rallies in more than two dozen cities appear to herald a new crop of Iranian dissenters: young and working-class, alienated from a political system rigged by the ruling mullahs but connected through social media and filled with expectations for their own futures.

Analysts say the protests -- which began in the provinces before reaching Tehran -- are being driven by working-class Iranians who are expressing an anger that seems sharper than in the last major political uprising in 2009. Demonstrators have chanted, "Death to the dictator," meaning Iran's supreme leader, and some have even called for a return to the monarchy that ruled before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the clerical establishment to power.

"This is a much broader and deeper disavowal of the regime as a whole," said Ali Ansari, founding director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

"If 2009 was a very middle-class rebellion, this is much cruder than that and much angrier than that. This is simpler folk, people who are basically fighting to make a living every day and have very basic demands."

The authorities' response suggests they are focused on neutralizing the protests but not addressing fundamental grievances.

"Even if this dies down, in a few days' time or six months' time, the regime has a problem, in that this discontent will simmer until they either take dramatic steps themselves or are forced to take them," Ansari said.

"These protests are an awakening, although people have been waking up for some time."

Desperate people do desperate things, and this is awakening ghosts of 1979. If the Mullahs aren't careful, they could find themselves facing a similar fate as the Pahlavis.

#3 | Posted by Rightocenter at 2018-01-02 05:29 PM

Make Iran Great Again!

#4 | Posted by Daniel at 2018-01-02 07:12 PM

Make Iran Great Again!

By all I've heard. Iran was a great place before it became a conservative religious ---- hole.

You know.

What Republicans are furiously trying to turn America into.

#5 | Posted by ClownShack at 2018-01-02 07:46 PM

Iran was a great place.

Really? Wonder why they got rid of a brutal dictator/cia stooge

#6 | Posted by bruceaz at 2018-01-02 07:54 PM

Wonder why they got rid of a brutal dictator/cia stooge

Wonder why Trump won the election.

People wanted something different than what they had.

Doesn't mean what they got was better.

Hearing conservatives talk, the Obama years were brutally ruled by a dictator/Wall Street stooge.

Doesn't mean Trump isn't a million times worse.

#7 | Posted by ClownShack at 2018-01-02 08:03 PM

I guess you young clucks don't remember the news videos of shah protesters waving their artificial limbs. They weren't accident prone.

What did Obama do, hurt your feelings?

#8 | Posted by bruceaz at 2018-01-02 08:11 PM

What did Obama do, hurt your feelings?

I liked Obama, for the most part.

My analogy in #7 has nothing to do with personal feeling. Nor am I a conservative.

But yea. I'm not old enough to have witnessed the Islamic revolution of Iran.

#9 | Posted by ClownShack at 2018-01-02 08:18 PM

I'm not old enough to have witnessed the Islamic revolution of Iran.

It was pretty ugly. They executed hundreds if not thousands of people every day for months.

#10 | Posted by REDIAL at 2018-01-02 08:25 PM

Time to face the strange changes
You rock and rollers :-)

#11 | Posted by bruceaz at 2018-01-02 08:27 PM

I'm not old enough to have witnessed the Islamic revolution of Iran.

#9 | POSTED BY CLOWNSHACK AT 2018-01-02 08:18 PM

I have a lot of friends here in LA who lived through it, their stories are horrific. Granted, most of them were Persian Jews who were among the elite that fled, but what they will talk about is bone chilling.

We almost moved to Tehran in 1974 when my father's company wanted him to take over a division in Iran, they would have provided us with a home in an "American" neighborhood and private schooling...sure glad that didn't work out.

#12 | Posted by Rightocenter at 2018-01-02 08:52 PM

Wow. You were anecdotally lucky on that one.

#13 | Posted by REDIAL at 2018-01-02 09:09 PM


All snark aside, this was a real thing...we were talking about it over the Holidays, one of the requirements, according to my dad, was that he agree to a 4 year contract and he would have been President of that division, a huge bump in pay and all our expenses paid as well. When he returned he would have been set up for a Executive VP slot here in the US.

It was pretty hard for him to turn down but something didn't feel right to him when we visited.

#14 | Posted by Rightocenter at 2018-01-02 11:37 PM

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