Iran Uprising and Views by a number of Experts

Iran Uprising: Will it continue? To What End?

The recent uprising in Iran which began on December 28 late last year, has sent shockwaves around the world, including the current debates among Iran policy circles in the United States.

Many policy experts, analysts, and commentators now view and describe the uprising as “watershed”, or “landmark event” or a “tuning point” in the period since 1979.

The below report is summary of these views and mainly focus on the question of “will this uprising continue.”

Why the Iranian Uprising Won’t Die
Even if these protests are snuffed out, a new line has been crossed. There’s no going back.

January 07, 2018
Alireza Nader is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

… There has been speculation that the uprising will die out or be crushed by the regime. However, a key barrier has been broken: Iranians are no longer contained by the wall of fear created by the Islamic Republic. Not only has Iran’s theocracy lost its legitimacy, but it has lost its ability to control the public through the instruments of violence. Unlike in past protests, countless Iranians have demonstrated that they will no longer participate in the political game of “reformist vs. conservative” (better known as “moderates vs. conservatives” in the West). For them, no one from the establishment, including the so-called reformists, can make their lives better. For them, the entire system has to fall for a new Iran to be reborn…

The current revolt may not lead to the immediate collapse of the regime, but we are witnessing the death throes of the Islamic Republic. Even if the uprising ends today, it is but one step in a long struggle to achieve a more representative, democratic and popular government. Khamenei and Rouhani may blame foreign enemies for the rebellion, but their enemies are the hungry and oppressed people of Iran. They are awake. And they are legion.

The Iran Opportunity
Iran’s clerics won’t be able to thwart the will of the people forever.
By Richard C. Baffa
Jan. 10, 2018, at 10:15 a.m.
The US News and World Report

Richard C. Baffa is a senior international/defense policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

… Two points are clear. First, this is not the first time Iranians have come out on the streets to protest and challenge authoritarian rule, nor will it be the last; the Iranian people have a long history of seeking a liberal political order. Second, the Iranian regime will not significantly modify either its domestic or foreign policies, portending ongoing unrest…

These are only the most recent demands for greater democracy and an end to clerical or autocratic rule in Iran. Indeed, there is a resilient democratic impulse in Iranian history, dating as far back as the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911…

Today, a young, well-educated population with a desire for a more liberal political order combined with an autocratic, corrupt regime unable and unwilling to reform suggest unrest will continue, at least episodically, and at some point, challenge the regime…

As the current unrest demonstrates, Iranian aspirations for a liberal, democratic political order remain strong and the clerics will not be able to thwart the will of the people forever.

The real significance of the unrest in Iran
By Christian Caryl
The Washington Post
January 2

Christian Caryl is an editor with The Post’s Global Opinions section. Christian Caryl is an American journalist and a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute in London.

… Whatever its ultimate consequences, the current surge of unrest is already a significant watershed in the history of modern Iran. Previous generations of demonstrators still harbored the hope that the theocratic system could be changed from within… The current protesters have given up that hope…

As we’ve seen in other autocracies in the past, economically motivated protests often morph into political ones over time. In this case, though, the demonstrators’ concerns went almost immediately from the price of eggs to demands for regime change…

All these things show precisely why the current system — like the old Soviet Union — can’t allow reform without condemning itself to collapse… By making true reform impossible, the current regime now seems determined to show that the only realistic option for change is one of violent confrontation.

Iran’s Theocracy Is on the Brink
Every decade the Islamist regime has been in power, an uprising has cost it an element of its legitimacy.
By Mark Dubowitz and Ray Takeyh
The Wall Street Journal
Jan. 1, 2018 11:11 a.m. ET

Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

… The regime is at an impasse. It has no more political actors—no establishment saviors—to offer its restless constituents.

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…. In many ways, Rouhani was the ruling clergy’s last gasp, a beguiling mullah who could enchant Westerners while offering Iranians some hope. That hope has vanished…

The Islamic Republic is a relic of a century that yielded multiple ideological regimes claiming to have mastered the forces of history. By now most of them are history.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Is Doomed
But things are likely to get much, much worse before they—eventually—get better.
January 02, 2018

… It is possible that an Islamist regime with little compunction about killing its own citizens will survive this latest challenge to its authority. Should it survive, the Iranian theocracy will not be the same… The Islamic Republic is entering a period of prolonged transition where it will no longer be able to proffer a theocracy with a human face…

The gap between state and society has never been wider, as the public seeks a responsive democracy while the theocracy’s diminishing cadre insist on even more repressive and isolated government. Revolutionaries who eschew reform and condemn pragmatism as sinful diversion from the path of God are destined for the dustbin of history. In the end, Iran’s (1979) revolution is an impossible one, as it created a theocracy that cannot reform itself and accommodate the aspirations of its restless and youthful citizens. The tragedy of Ali Khamenei is that in consolidating his revolution, he is ensuring the eventual demise of his regime.

Iran’s brutal regime running on fumes as angry masses gather, says expert
By Alex Diaz | Fox News
Fox News Investigates
January 5th

… the demographics of the protests and the heavy-handed approach to them bode poorly for the brutal regime, according to Kenneth Katzman, a senior analyst of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Persian Gulf Affairs at the Congressional Research Service. “[The demonstrations have] morphed into basically a youth protest against the system writ large, and it all goes back to the clerics’ monopoly on power,” said Katzman, whose group provides research and analysis to Congress…

“These are simmering disputes,” said Katzman, who believes that outbursts of protests like the one we’re seeing are “going to keep happening periodically, but at some point the Islamic Republic’s luck presumably runs out.” Katzman isn’t alone in believing that the days could be numbered for the Iranian ruling class.

The Worst Thing for Iran’s Protesters? U.S. Silence
The New York Times

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Iranian-targets officer in the Central Intelligence Agency, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The longing for change among the Iranian people hasn’t abated, however. The 1979 revolution had two contradictory ambitions: clerical Islamism and democracy. As theocracy has lost its appeal, the attraction of democracy, ever more secular in its expression, has spread from the college-educated to the working class…

… Gradual change isn’t in the offing. The demonstrators in the streets of Iran today instinctively know this, which is why they rail against the system, chanting: “Death to Khamenei! Death to Rouhani!”

Iranians Try Yet Again to Change Their Government
The World Affairs Journal
Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy

Jamsheed K. Choksy is Distinguished Professor of Global and International Studies and Professor of Iranian Studies at Indiana University. Carol E. B. Choksy is Lecturer in Strategic Intelligence at Indiana University.

… Th(ese) protests mirror Iran’s recent history in issues, demands, and responses… “Death to the dictator!” chanted protestors in late 1978 and early 1979 as Iranians successfully mobilized to oust Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi despite the monarch’s violent resistance. Thirty years later the phrase “Death to Khamenei” was commonplace when Iranians tried unsuccessfully to undo a presidential election rigged (in 2009)… Yet the underlying political, economic, and social conditions that have fueled these popular uprisings have not changed… not surprisingly, the current protests resemble those of the earlier revolts…

The question is, will the rebellion’s outcome be different this time around? … Indeed, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij paramilitary are being deployed to assist the police in beating up and arresting protestors. But with each set of uprisings, whether successful or unsuccessful, the Iranian people are learning and adapting, and, as the past indicates, will return to their struggle until one day they succeed.

Trump Is Right, This Time, About Iran
Roger Cohen
NYT Foreign Affairs Columnist
JAN. 2, 2018
The New York Times

… The demonstrations, this time, are different. They are smaller, but more widespread. They reflect the economic woes of the working class more than middle-class disaffection… They originated in Mashhad and went on to Qum, two traditional regime strongholds — a sign of the regime’s ideological bankruptcy. The West-leaning middle class, fed up with the hypocrisy of the mullahs, has long sought political change. But the working class has been a pillar of the regime — manipulated with handouts and slogans. If they have shifted now, all the aging Khamenei has left is the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij…

Still, the courage of Iranians should never be underestimated, nor the deep roots of their quest for freedom, and anything is possible… Today, protesters are chanting that Khamenei should go. They are chanting death to the Revolutionary Guards. They are chanting, “Independence, freedom, Iranian republic.”

The Secular Republic of Iran
In a theocracy, political protests will always have religious implications.
By Reuel Marc Gerecht
Jan. 4, 2018 7:11 p.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The mullahs’ system is stuck: It can’t evolve into a real democracy, and it can’t resuscitate the religious militancy that once sustained the theocracy and drew tens of thousands of new recruits into the clergy… Mosques all over Iran are empty at prayer times. In 2015 a Revolutionary Guard commander, Ziaeddin Hozni, revealed that only about 3,000 of the country’s 57,000 Shiite mosques were fully operational. And of the 3,000, some were only functioning during the religious months of Ramadan and Muharram…

The current eruptions may well fail to unseat the mullahs. Yet as the great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun warned, there is always another asabiyya, or galvanizing spirit of a superior force, waiting outside the capital, gaining unstoppable momentum.

The Battle for Iran
Change will not come easily, peacefully, or soon.
By Karim Sadjadpour
The Atlantic
December 31, 2017

Karim Sadjadpour is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

… While some have expressed hope these protests might compel the Iranian government to try and address popular grievances, history shows us the opposite is more likely true. In the weeks and months to come, expect the regime to grow ever more repressive… Khamenei and his IRGC backers appear firmly entrenched from thousands of miles away, but we also know from history that authoritarian stability can be a chimera. In August 1978, the CIA confidently assessed that the Pahlavi monarchy in Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.” Five months later the Shah—stricken with advanced cancer unbeknownst even to his family—left never to come back…

Two-thousand-five-hundred years of Persian civilization and a century-long quest for democracy offer hope about the irrepressible Iranian will for change. But the Islamic Republic’s four-decade history of brutality suggests that change will not come easily, or peacefully, or soon.

How To Support The Second ‘Persian Spring’
By Ilan Berman
USA Today
January 2, 2018

Ilan Berman is senior vice president at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.

Could we see a new Iranian revolution in 2018? For nearly a week now, tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in various cities throughout the Islamic Republic in the largest mass demonstrations of their kind in nearly a decade. In the process, they have raised the tantalizing possibility that we might in fact be witnessing a second “Persian Spring.”…

Unlike in 2009, Iran’s current protests aren’t just about a rigged election, or factional domestic politics. They reflect a fundamental loss of faith in the current regime’s stewardship of the Iranian ship of state, and in the clerical political system as a whole. That loss of confidence, moreover, appears to cut across all economic strata; unlike the uprising of the last decade, today’s protests do not appear to be largely a middle-class affair. As a result of these features, they may prove to be a good deal more difficult to suppress than their predecessors…

perhaps the second “Persian Spring” now playing out on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities will be able to succeed where the first one failed.

The Iranian regime can’t keep winning forever
By David Ignatius
The Washington Post
January 4

David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.

… Asking whether Iran’s demonstrations create a “pre-revolutionary” situation may miss the larger point. The process of change has already begun. The regime will use its instruments of repression, and the unrest may wane. But the protests have been so widespread, taking place in what a former U.S. intelligence officer says are 80 cities, that it will be impossible to put the whole country back in a box…

a long game, and while the mullahs have the guns, they seem to have lost the public’s trust… The Iranian regime was rocked this week, and it will fight back ruthlessly. But it’s hard to imagine the theocracy prevailing indefinitely in a society so hungry for change. The West can’t wage this fight. But it shouldn’t be afraid to say who’s right and wrong.

Don’t be fooled: the Iran protests won’t overthrow the regime
The National Interest
Frederick W. Kagan, Marie Donovan
January 7, 2018

Frederick W. Kagan is the Director of the Critical Threats Project and the Christopher DeMuth Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. Marie Donovan is a senior analyst for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

… The protests have reportedly waned. But it’s not over. Any spark could reignite the people’s anger. The regime cannot possibly address the actual grievances of the protesters quickly—or, indeed, at all… Iran has had a new watershed moment. Whatever happens, going forward, things will be different in Iran. How? We shall have to wait and see.

Iran has the ingredients for revolution — but a strong regime to ward it off
By Fareed Zakaria Opinion writer
January 4
The Washington Post–but-a-strong-regime-to-ward-it-off/2018/01/04/0cadf774-f19a-11e7-97bf-bba379b809ab_story.html

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

… Iran has the ingredients for a revolution. More than half of the population is younger than 30, many youths are educated yet unemployed, almost 50 million Iranians have smartphones with which they can learn about the world, and reformers have consistently raised expectations yet never delivered on their promises. But the regime also has instruments of power, ideology, repression and patronage, all of which it is ready to wield to stay in control. What appears likely for Iran is a period of instability…

Why Iran Is Protesting
The New York Times
JAN. 2, 2018

Amir Ahmadi Arian is an Iranian novelist and journalist.

… The people today at the top of power pyramid in Iran were involved in the 1979 revolution and witnessed firsthand how, when the shah decided he had “heard the voice of the revolution,” he marked the beginning of his end. That impression has been reinforced by the Arab Spring…

Iran has lived through multiple convulsions. The government has mastered the art of survival through crises. They may well survive this round as well but something has fundamentally changed: The unquestioning support of the rural people they relied on against the discontent of the metropolitan elite is no more. Now everyone seems unhappy.

What Could the Iran Uprising Portend?
American Enterprise Institute Debate
January 9, 2018

Benjamin Weinthal, Research Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

… the different character of the revolts blanketing Iran reveal a bundle of potential for a new political and social system… The mix of working-class Iranians and young people demanding an end to the regime is a breathtaking development. Widespread labor unrest in a largely closed society like Iran is a salient example that the regime’s foundation is on shaky ground. The chants voiced among the protesters suggest that the outrage is chiefly about human freedom…

If the worst case scenario succeeds and the current protests are smashed, there is a still a strong basis for a new revolt… Put simply, ordinary Iranians loathe the regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The inherent potential of regime change will not vanish. In fact, it will increase.

Correcting five myths about the Iranian uprising
By Shahram Ahmadi Nasab Emran
Augusta Free Press
January 11, 2018

Shahram Ahmadi Nasab Emran, M.D., M.A., Ph.D. (c), a doctoral candidate at Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University.

The current wave of protests is not unique. The impetus behind this unrest is the same as that behind the protests in 2009, 1999, the early 1990s, and the early 1980s. While each of these movements had its own starting point, i.e., fraudulent elections in 2009, the student movement in 1999, and so on, the main reason has remained the same: the Iranian dissident majority striving for freedom and democracy. In fact, it is by now an established pattern for anti-government protests that they start whenever Iranians get a chance to take to the streets, even after a soccer game or death of a celebrity.