Will the Iranian regime survive people pressure, differences among officials?

Hamid Bahrami

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In an article for Al Arabiya in August, I explained that Iran stands on the brink of a revolution. I highlighted two realities in the country to justify this conclusion.

Firstly, the people of Iran are no longer able nor willing to live under the status quo and repression. Secondly, the ruling system, riddled with corruption, can no longer deceive people because of the growing domestic conflicts among the political establishment and is unable to reinstate the atmosphere of fear by its security organs because of losing ideological leverage.

The removal and installation of several top officials last month with reports of President Rouhani facing serious challenges from within the theocratic establishment provide further proof of a deep split at the top of the ruling system. These moves to solidify ranks also testify to the fact that the theocracy is dealing with people who want to get rid of the regime.

ANALYSIS: Is Iran in a revolutionary situation?

In a totalitarian state, there is a correlation between popular protests and internal fighting within the ruling establishment.

During question time in the parliament last week, members rebuked the president and Rouhani pointed at the growing popular protests against the regime across the country. He confessed that “all of the country’s problems began on Dec 26, 2017, when a number of people poured into the streets and began and started chanting slogans”.

In fact, such an extensive questioning of the president is very unusual in the Islamic Republic. However, both members of parliament and Rouhani avoided to explain and address the real root causes of the challenges facing the country.

Apart from international isolation and popular pressure, the Iranian regime is facing an intense competition between branches of quasi-mafia holding power within the regime

Hamid Bahrami

Rouhani remarks

In the beginning of his remarks to the parliament, Rouhani acknowledged that the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had made some recommendations to him for the questioning session at the parliament.

Khamenei and his faction are playing a “good cop, bad cop” role in order to weaken Rouhani in the ongoing internal conflict. But both sides know well that the main danger threatens the theocracy in its entirety.

Members of parliament were never convinced by President’s answers. However, Khamenei praised Rouhani’s government a day later saying that “it is capable of managing the economy”.

In contrast, Khamenei’s faction in the parliament has so far removed two key ministers in the Rouhani’s cabinet for mismanaging the economy and is planning to do more. In reality, the Supreme Leader wants a weak and docile government, which he could use as a leverage to cope with domestic and foreign challenges.

This also provides the Supreme Leader with the option of presenting himself as an opponent to the status quo if the situation deteriorates further.

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The other change is the paramilitary forces being under full control of Khamenei and responsible for defending his regime. The Supreme Leader recently dismissed several senior officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) replacing them with more obedient commanders.

According to Voice of America (VOA), an Iranian police officer deserted his post and fled Iran to save his life, which was in danger as he refused orders to suppress anti-government protests that swept the country this year.

Last week, Khamenei appointed Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri as the new commander of the IRGC navy, according to regime’s state media. The country’s top leader also appointed a new chief for the air force.

Needs of employees

The new chiefs have been urged to pay close attention to the livelihood and needs of employees. During the nationwide protests that began in January, there were multiple reports of greater dissatisfaction with internal conditions in the paramilitary forces, especially among the IRGC commanders and their families.

Apart from international isolation and popular pressure, the Iranian regime is facing an intense competition between branches of quasi-mafia holding power within the regime.

During his impeachment process, Labor Minister Ali Rabiei, who is an experienced member of the regime’s intelligence apparatus, warned about the main threat to the regime.

“I saw many crises during these 40 years. I remember that 12,000 militias (referring to the young members of opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI/MEK) were going to parade in Tehran’s street. We have lost our trust in society today”, Rabiei said in his remarks defending his position.

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But it is the nature of a totalitarian regime to quarrel over remaining wealth and power when its senior officials are sure about the imminent collapse of the ruling system.

As the economic crisis in the country is getting worse and the regime is expected to face growing nationwide protests in the near future, the US should prepare to support the Iranian people.

President Trump told Bloomberg in an interview that “when I came into here, it was a question of when would they (Iranian regime) take over the Middle East …Now it’s a question of will they survive. It’s a big difference in one and a half years.”

The regime’s repressive forces have yet to lose control over the situation. Nonetheless, the recent change of IRGC commanders and the deepening fight between Iran’s theocratic leaders send a clear message to President Trump’s administration.

This message is clear – enhance pressure on the regime in Tehran, target its propaganda and sources of income, but “never interfere with an enemy while it is self-destructing”.
Hamid Bahrami is a former political prisoner from Iran who now resides in Glasgow, Scotland. He is a human right and political activist and works as a freelance journalist. He tweets at @HaBahram and blogs at analyzecom.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.