Let us suppose that the nuclear negotiations are proceeding in the desired direction, and that they will lead to outcomes that revive the 2015 agreement and reaching an understanding between the US administration and the Iranian regime that puts an end to economic sanctions. However, matters in Iran are divided between two directions that may be contradictory, or mutually exclusive.
The first is the lifting of sanctions and the repatriation of frozen funds abroad, which some Western circles estimate at about $200 billion, and the second is Iran’s return to the global economy and oil markets, which entails interim promises of an economic recovery that domestic markets will readily absorb, given the chronic, cumulative need, on the popular and institutional levels, especially in stalled and halted projects that lack funding. This may re-ignite the economic crisis more severely and may put Iran and the regime in the face of a far-reaching and more serious economic collapse, ultimately leading to an explosion.
The latest statement by Iran's Expediency Discernment Council Chairman Sadeq Amoli Larijani may not come as a surprise, when he said: “The inflation in the country and the pressures are weighing on poorer social classes, and they are a fact that raises concern, in light of the exorbitantly high prices. Many staple foods are absent on common people’s dining tables, and there are some who cannot buy meat, or even fruits along with other items. This is very sad, and we must move quickly to remedy it.”
The aggravated economic crisis, alongside the inability of the regime’s institutions and the welfare state to find effective solutions, and the fact that all the funds that entered Iran during the recent weeks as a result of easing the US grip on financial sanctions have been exhausted, in addition to the serious difficulties in securing the salaries of public sector employees and the inflation of monetary supply in the local currency without a cover in hard currency or metals; all of this will not be easily overcome even if all the frozen funds are released and foreign investments return to flow, without a taskforce capable of professionally steering this phase, in order to simply reduce losses and negative effects, not prevent them from happening.
What the post-agreement, post-sanctions phase may hold, and the possibility of a popular explosion and the outbreak of rioting throughout Iranian territory, and that things may well spiral out of control, are not concerns overlooked by the regime’s senior leadership, nor the military establishment, specifically within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - the regime and the Supreme Leader’s military arm - especially since the formation of the government was preceded a few days earlier by the water crisis that rocked the province of Ahvas, and drew an iron-fist clamp down from the IRGC, before seeking to break up the objections that expanded beyond the issue of water to include the chronic demands of remedying deprivation, exclusion and marginalization.
Therefore, the appointment of the advisor to the Supreme Leader, IRGC General Ahmed Wahidi, as Minister of Interior, revealed the regime’s intent and that of the government of Ebrahim Raisi to deal with any potential or anticipated popular movement as a threat to national security and to the stability of the regime. This is what happened after that appointment a few weeks ago in dealing with the water crisis and the peasants’ uprising in the province of Isfahan; using the iron-fist approach and extensive arrests, before discussing corrective solutions.
The selection of General Wahidi for the Ministry of the Interior was not the most important step, but rather the step that followed the government gaining confidence, when the Supreme Leader announced the delegation of his powers in commanding the police, internal security, public security, and provincial and municipal police to the Minister of Interior - an unprecedented step in any previous government. This is especially significant in light of the experience of the Islamic republic’s first president, Abul-Hasan Bani-Sadr, who was delegated on the authority of the founding father Ayatollah Khomeini, to lead the armed forces during the war with Iraq, a mandate that was supposed to pass through the president of the republic, who in turn delegates this authority to the competent minister, but the Supreme Leader opted to transfer his powers and delegate them directly to the minister, meaning that the minister now wields direct contact with respect to matters of security and national security with the Supreme Leader, or with the National Security Department in his office, without going through the presidency or the government.
Between the uprisings in Ahwaz and Isfahan on the background of the crises of water, drought, mismanagement of water resources, and accusing the central government of adopting a policy of regional favoritism in managing water resources; emerged threats of a different nature, and of a clearer national dimension compared to the situation in Ahvas, the stronghold of Iranian Arabs. This time the flashpoints were in Azeri provinces, against the backdrop of security tensions with Azerbaijan as a result of its war with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which forced the Supreme Leader to directly intervene to calm them down, especially as these tensions threatened to ignite the home front at a time when the regime is preoccupied with cordoning off the geopolitical and geo-economic repercussions of the war in the Caucasus and its effects on the regime’s strategic, national and economic interests.
These developments, in addition to the unstable and volatile situation in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, alongside the change taking place in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s taking over of power in the country, have raised the stakes and the possibility of confronting internal uprisings driven by economic, ethnic, national, political and social reasons, which requires the Interior Minister and the agencies under his command to be in a state of full alert to confront any sudden development.
This was manifested in the measure undertaken by the minister to replace the civilian provincial leaderships with retired generals in the majority of Iran’s 31 provinces, granting them the authority to take proper decisions and deal with any emerging developments without referring to the central government, which underscores the regime’s approach to dealing with any popular movement based on a security perspective, and regarding it as a threat to national security and a conspiracy to overthrow the regime at the expense of day-to-day living demands - as a result of the aggravation of the economic crisis engendered by the mismanagement policies of consecutive governments in Tehran.
These measures, from the perspective of the Ministry of Interior, being the first of their kind to necessitate the delegation of powers of the Supreme Leader to the minister, lead to the notion that the regime fears difficult and complex internal developments, which it may face in the event of failure of the nuclear negotiations, or even in the event they succeed.
Hence, has the regime begun implementing a gradual plan for confrontation pending the moment of explosion, instead of resorting to planning for how to manage the next stage?
This article was originally published in, and translated from, UK newspaper Independent Arabia.