Increasing Government Repression, Control and Distress of Nations: Protests Show That Iran Is Having Trouble Controlling the Middle East
Mohammed Ayoob The National Interest•November 23, 2019
All is not well with the Mullah-dominated regime in Iran. Economic distress and political repression are rampant in the country. When these are coupled with the increasingly angry reactions in Lebanon and Iraq against Tehran’s overbearing attitude toward its neighbors there are clear indications that the regime is in dire trouble both at home and abroad. This does not necessarily mean that the Islamic Republic is on the verge of collapse. It does mean that the regime’s legitimacy is under challenge to a degree that even exceeds the disaffection with the system that was demonstrated in 2009 when the movement against Ahmadinejad’s reelection engineered by the regime spawned what came to be known as the “Green Movement.”
The Green Movement was suppressed with a heavy hand but only after its proponents had been allowed to vent their anger publicly for a few weeks. This time around the regime’s security apparatus has come down heavily on the protestors from the protests’ very inception. Moreover, the protestors have received warnings not only from the hardline clergy but also from the moderate President Hassan Rouhani that they must not upset the applecart by playing into the hands of “hostile powers.” In 2009, there was a clear division between the moderates and the hardliners within the regime, with the former supporting the Green Movement and the latter opposing it. The two leading figures of that movement were Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, both contenders for the presidency and part and parcel of the ruling dispensation, albeit of its moderate winning.
This time the anti-regime protests have erupted spontaneously and have not been encouraged, let alone led, by any person or group with links to the regime. As in Hong Kong, Lebanon, and Iraq, the movement itself is throwing up its leaders. This can be both the strength and weakness of the movement. On the one hand, it is very difficult for the government to identify the leaders and neutralize them. On the other, the spontaneity of the protests demonstrates a lack of organization and, therefore, sheds doubt on the movement’s capacity to sustain the protests for any length of time.