A year ago, protests erupted throughout the Islamic Republic as demonstrators took to the streets to express their frustrations with economic hardship, laws mandating the wearing of the hijab, and even their government’s foreign policy. While these protests have disappeared from Western headlines, they have not ceased. Ilan Berman writes:
Although regime officials have renewed their calls for a “resistance economy” in the face of reinvigorated sanctions on the part of the United States, the Islamic Republic shows no sign of rethinking its extensive (and costly) foreign-policy priorities, which include helping to keep Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power and providing military support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
That, in turn, represents an opportunity for Washington. The Trump administration has made renewed [economic] pressure on Iran a centerpiece of its regional policy. . . . Accordingly, over the past half-year, the White House has sought to turn up the heat on Iran’s leadership through the “snapback” of American sanctions, and by cajoling European and Asian nations to reduce their trade with Tehran.
America’s greatest ally in this effort, however, might just turn out to be the Iranian regime itself. To date, Iran’s leaders have succeeded in containing the challenge to its rule represented by the ongoing protests. They have done so in large part through widespread arrests, pervasive censorship, and extensive repression. These efforts have likewise been greatly aided by the absence of clear leadership or an organized agenda for action among the protesters themselves.
Yet the longer the Islamic Republic continues its descent into economic crisis, the more compelling these calls for counterrevolution are bound to become—and the more profound the ideological challenge to the integrity of the Iranian regime will be. And that, in turn, makes the current protests the most potent force working toward creating meaningful change within the Islamic Republic.