November 9, 2022

Is Iran’s Theocracy on the Chopping Block?

Back to All
by Farhad Rezaei, Senior Research Fellow

Even if the mullahs and their enforcers can prevail for now, history teaches that force alone cannot guarantee the regime’s survival, let alone legitimacy.

The ongoing social unrest in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman murdered by the Islamic Republic’s “morality police,” shows no sign of abetting. Naturally, legions of Iran watchers have offered speculation on the endgame of the upheaval. Scenarios have ranged from the emergence of democracy to the upholding of the status quo or an emboldened theocracy turning into a totalitarian state run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Revolutions are inherently difficult to predict, but some observations on the progress of the struggle can be offered.

First, with the exception of the 2009 uprising over the stolen election, the current turmoil is uniquely broad-based, with protests supported across all ethnic groups and provinces. This so-called “global Iran,” a collective of people with diverse ethnic identities separated by geography, is “very much together in feelings, in concerns, and in dreams,” as scholar Asef Bayat wrote.