Iran on verge of half-life as regime pretends to be blind - ANALYSIS

Politics Materials 29 January 2023 13:30 (UTC +04:00)
Iran on verge of half-life as regime pretends to be blind - ANALYSIS
Emin Aliyev
Emin Aliyev
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BAKU, Azerbaijan, January 29. The terrorist attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran horrified the region. Heads of state and government, diplomats, and lawmakers from numerous countries around the world condemned the incident. The terrorist attack, the death of the head of the diplomatic mission security service, and the wounding of two more employees became an unprecedented crime, the circumstances of which give rise to multiple questions.

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev on the same day demanded the Iranian side a speedy and objective investigation of the incident as well as punish those responsible. The Iranian side, in turn, behaved at least provocatively (defiantly). The Tehran police chief announced a version that most experts immediately called a naive fake: allegedly, the shooter arrived at the embassy building with two minor children, while his motive was a domestic conflict and an attempt to find his wife, who was allegedly either held in the embassy or not allowed to return from Azerbaijan back to Iran.

Considering the highly challenging internal political and economic environment, the resonance that this attack caused throughout the world prompts us to consider the core of the Iranian regime, its sufficiency, and its prospects.

Rocking the boat

The level of public discontent, like a time bomb, has been rising over the past years, resulting in a real social explosion in recent weeks. The whole of Iran was shaken by protests of unprecedented proportions. The catalyst for this wave of popular indignation was the death of a 22-year-old girl detained by the morality police for "incorrectly" wearing a hijab. Spontaneous protests quickly turned into a nationwide act of defiance against the regime ruling after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Protests of various levels of intensity are quite a usual thing for Iran in recent years. Nevertheless, this time the widespread popular discontent is unique in its own way: for the first time the mass protests covered literally all the categories of the population. Today, among those dissatisfied with the ayatollahs’ regime are young people in cities, residents of provinces, women, men, and various ethnic groups, in particular Azerbaijanis and Balochis. Both poor and rich, both young and old, female students, schoolgirls, and even oil workers take to the streets of cities of Iran. Mahsa Amini, whose death was the spark that ignited the protests, was from among the Kurds - but representatives of literally all Iranian ethnic groups took to the streets.

Hijab – one of the most important, but not the only reason

The obligatory wearing of a hijab and punishment for disobedience to do so is one the most essential conflict points between the Iranian regime and the people. Women were the feel the biggest changes after the Islamic Revolution's victory. The order on the mandatory wearing of the hijab was almost the first one given by Ayatollah Khomeini after the regime change in 1979.Following that, in March of the same year, hundreds of thousands of Iranian women came out to protest against the new rule, but in vain. The split of Iranian society became a significant aspect as well: the driving force of the Islamic revolution, its core was primarily men living in the provinces, which inevitably affected the male half of society's lack of support for women's demonstrations. The obligatory hijab has become a symbol of the Iranian regime for decades.

But times change: young Iranian men and women, born after the revolution, don’t feel the same about the conservatism of the previous generation. The widespread of the internet also contributed to this: the Iranian iron curtain was even weaker than the soviet one. The youth had the opportunity to learn about the life of their peers in countries abroad, including Muslim ones, and to compare it with their own daily lives. The authorities are aware of this and frequently fully or partially ban Internet access in the country, as well as outlaw messengers, social networks, and VPNs, but the measures taken are not really effective. The Tehran regime has not been able to provide total information isolation. This not only encouraged those who were dissatisfied with the authorities, but also allowed them to better coordinate their protests and learn of widespread international support.

Regime's response

The Iranian authorities initially hoped that the current wave of discontent would not turn into serious problems, therefore they reacted to the events traditionally: the rallies were dispersed, and the most active participants were arrested. However, neither beatings nor arrests or prison frightened the protestors; on the contrary, with each new punitive measure or show trial, an increasing number of people took to the streets. Women's rights and the hijab issue have already ceased to be the only demand of the protesters. The protesters were chanting not only ‘Women, life, freedom!’, but other shouts such as ‘Death to Khamenei!’, ‘Disgrace!’, and ‘We’ll return our Iran’ are also heard.

When the authorities realized they couldn't put down the protests quickly enough, they developed a more complicated plan. Initially, the morality police were instructed to vanish. People in plain clothes who used to watch how women dressed in public places and had the authority to punish or arrest them vanished from the streets of Tehran and other cities around the country. More and more women all over Iran openly didn’t wear any headscarves - there was simply no one to punish. There was a sense of approaching victory in society, bolstered by the fact that the government had circulated announcements with the support of various officials that the morality police would be eliminated entirely very soon. Some tame deputies of the Iranian parliament even made statements in the media that amendments that would abolish the mandatory wearing of the hijab would be discussed in the near future.

All that was just a distraction, that allowed the regime to gain some time and prevent the protests from reaching critical proportions. After the protesters' fury faded, Iran's Prosecutor General entered the circus arena and declared that not only had no one abolished the morality policy, but that the wearing of the hijab is enshrined in the country's constitution, and no one would ever change it. The morality police didn’t reappear in the streets but were replaced with the forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The employees of this special service are armed with machine guns and have practically unlimited powers. Girls not wearing hijabs on the streets of Tehran were beaten again, and threatened with arrests and prison terms. Several activists were executed on far-fetched accusations such as "denying the existence of God" or " detriment of the sacred values." Intimidation, another of the Iranian authorities' calling cards, is still regularly utilized to deal with protests.

Undoubtedly, the most important problem for the stability of the Iranian regime remains the constantly deteriorating economic situation. The local currency, the Iranian rial, is breaking through new all-time lows - the other day $1 was bought for 410,000 rials on the "black market". Due to Western sanctions imposed as a result of Iran's nuclear program, as well as inept judgments made by the government's economic bloc, the population's quality of living is declining and unemployment is growing.

Iran has become a rogue state

Numerous sanctions have been implemented and are still in force on Tehran, including at the level of a number of governments and international organizations, principally the US and the EU. Since July 2010, Australia, Canada, South Korea, and Japan have also imposed sanctions against Iran. The situation around Iran and the current sanctions regime has been heating up, especially since 2017, after Donald Trump came to the White House and brought down the famous "nuclear deal" (or, officially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), signed in 2015 by Tehran and a group of states known as “P5+1.” This group consists of the US, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany. The JCPOA deal called for Iran's nuclear program to be limited (as well as interim limits on its sale and acquisition of weapons) in exchange for a large-scale easing of international sanctions against Tehran. Following Iran's concessions, Washington (under Barack Obama) announced in 2016 the exemption from sanctions of 59 individuals (Iranian and other state citizens), 385 enterprises, 77 aircraft, and 227 ships, including oil tankers.

However, in 2018, Trump withdrew from the deal and resumed unilateral US sanctions against Iran, even introducing new, even tougher ones. In turn, Tehran announced a phased reduction of its obligations and resumed nuclear development. The first block of restrictive measures taken by the US against Iran in 2018-2019 affected the Iranian automotive sector as well as the Iranian trade in gold and other metals.

The second block affected the Iranian energy sector and any transactions related to the hydrocarbon raw materials, or to the Central Bank of Iran. Nevertheless, by imposing new sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time, Washington temporarily withdrew six countries that were consumers of Iranian oil from their actions: China, India, Italy, Greece, Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.

In November 2018, Iran was disconnected from the SWIFT international interbank system. In November of the same year, the third block of Washington's sanctions came into force: they were extended to the Iranian construction sector. Supplies of a number of metals, coal, and industrial equipment to Tehran were also banned.

The sanctions also had a political effect: against the background of opposition to the West, an outspoken conservative Ebrahim Raisi, very unpopular among the people, became president of Iran. In addition, the regime, in turn, has also become actively engaged in subversive activities around the world: not just in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, or Yemen, but also in Africa and Latin America.

At the same time, Washington, after Joe Biden came to the White House, said that it was ready to return to negotiations on the resumption of the 2015 "nuclear deal". Biden has repeatedly promised to take such a step, but first, according to him, he needs to lift the existing anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by his predecessor Trump. In Tehran, Washington's willingness to engage in such negotiations has been treated as "the great victory of the Iranian people."

Western sanctions certainly have hit Iran hard and have greatly limited its ability to interact with the outside world. The West has been able to achieve something that its sanctions regime had not been able to do in previous years: considerably limit Tehran's prospects for economic and financial engagement with a number of countries that were previously considered its allies.

What now?

The level of protest activity in Iran has naturally decreased after many weeks. However, this is not a reason to believe that the crisis has been resolved; yes, perhaps the ayatollahs' regime gets a respite in this way, but none of the fundamental causes of popular discontent has been solved: sanctions are in force, the economy is gradually sinking, and the rights of women and ethnic minorities continue to be infringed. Moreover, the ayatollahs' regime spends considerable monetary resources on expanding its influence in the region and supporting terrorists around the world instead of investing them in its own country and raising people's living standards.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself cannot go unnoticed. Khamenei is elderly and suffering from several diseases. For a long time, a successor has been prepared for him, and among the main candidates are the current president, Ebrahim Raisi, and Khamenei's son, Mojtaba. Neither of them belongs to the "liberals" or "reformers". Both of them have an extremely low level of public support; indeed, they cannot be called charismatic leaders. And finally, neither one nor the other will meet their people halfway and take any decisions that will reduce the degree of public discontent. The transfer of power will be one of the most difficult operations for the regime in conditions of strong social tension. Of course, the Iranian elites planned to conduct the process as secretly and privately as possible, but in the current conditions, it is almost impossible.

There are also external factors: the confrontation between Iran and Israel has become a kind of sacred conflict for both sides - just last night, Iranian military and oil facilities were attacked. According to Tehran, the attack was carried out with the help of drones, and the Iranian regime is already preparing to blame Israel for everything. Tel Aviv, in turn, is unlikely to miss the opportunity to take advantage of any upheaval of the ayatollahs’ regime in its favor.

All this threatens Iran with even greater shocks. The Iranian regime was so carried away by its "policy of exporting the Islamic Revolution," which is, in fact, state terrorism, that it forgot about ensuring its real stability. In the mid-late eighties, the Soviet authorities could not even imagine that in just a couple of years their regime would cease to exist. Perhaps that's what the Iranian leadership is thinking right now. The half-life of the Iranian regime is in full swing, and apparently everyone is capable of seeing it except the ayatollahs.