A precarious present and an uncertain future

There is no sign that the Islamic Republic can meaningfully address any of the three crises which fuelled the 2017-18 uprising. A year after the mass demonstrations, the country still faces protests, accompanied by a worsening economic situation and the re-imposition of U.S. extraterritorial sanctions following President Donald Trumpʹs unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Interviewed by the IRGCʹs Tasnim News Agency earlier this year, sociologist Mohammad-Reza Tajik – a former advisor to reformist president Mohammad Khatami and a strategist who served as vice minister of the intelligence ministry in charge of psychological warfare – provided an alarming assessment of Iran today. Tajik said, "Iranian society finds itself in decay, in a situation where the past is dying and the future cannot emerge, nor the ability to reform."

On the societal level, Iranʹs civil society remains relatively weak, with its constituent parts – the womenʹs, labour, and student movements – facing repression, and so far lacking the ability to push for an intersectional and cross-class alliance that could truly challenge state authority.

At the state level, the post-Khamenei era is on the horizon, with the possibility that rather than a successor as supreme leader, a leadership council might replace him. This could play out in multiple ways, but the most likely feature seems to be a more prominent role for the IRGC, which could extend its dominance beyond the security, economic, intelligence, and judicial realms into the political one.

Given the depth and size of its internal and external challenges, the Islamic Republic is in regime-survival mode. To avoid a full-scale social explosion, it might opt for a relative easing of public morality, while promoting a nationalist discourse over a religious one.

In regional policies, dwindling resources and increasing domestic criticism might push it to be more cautious, while a threat to regime survival from within may encourage it to seek foreign adventurism to unite people at home. However, this would be a risky endeavour as many of those post-revolutionary rhetorical devices have lost their appeal.

Internationally, U.S. sanctions are likely to continue to deprive Iran of much-needed income and foreign exchange from oil sales, while its international relations will suffer in the shadow of U.S. enmity. Given this position of weakness, Tehran will continue to grant concessions to non-Western great powers in exchange for their political support.

In other words, after a tumultuous past four decades, the Islamic Republic now stands at the crossroads between a precarious present and an uncertain future. This new chapter in the history of the Islamic Republic was heralded by the 2017-18 rebellion and is likely to remain characterised by constant turmoil, as the triple crises of environmental destruction, economic hardship, and political uncertainty persist and even deepen, while the stateʹs responses remain insufficient.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad

© Qantara.de 2019

The full version of this text was originally published by the Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

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