Although the protests against the Islamic Republic which began with the death of Mahsa Amini last September have not abated, Reuel Marc Gerecht is not sanguine about their ability to overthrow the regime. At the same time, Gerecht contends that the ayatollahs’ popular support has collapsed, and that they are hanging on by brute force:
It’s crystal clear . . . to many in the Iranian religious and political elite, and it may well be clear to [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei, too, that for Iranians under forty (around 60 percent of the population), there is zero chance that they will re-embrace the Islamic Republic. Even for those older, it’s doubtful they have much affection for the theocracy left, especially given its conduct towards their children and grandchildren.
The regime obviously still has sufficient manpower to maintain its myriad security units, especially the all-critical Basij, who are the theocracy’s Brownshirts, and the Revolutionary Guards. In the demonstrations since September, which have been more alarming to the regime than the near-insurrection of 2019, the security forces, though strained, have shown no signs of cracking. Enough young men still appear willing to kill and torture enough women (and men) in the zan–zendegi–âzâdi (Women, Life, and Freedom) movement to keep the demonstrations from mushrooming into million-woman marches.
Perhaps more worrisome for the regime, senior clerics now openly express concern about politics degrading the faith. The regime understandably responds quickly to such criticism, either through solicitation or intimidation. Its sense of self, especially within the military and security services, revolves around Islam. . . .
The Islamic Republic’s ruling elite [isn’t composed of] cynics or run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern despots, who find legitimacy in the simple fact that they hold the reins of power or that they possess a historically significant, victorious bloodline; theocrats, and a sufficient number of their foot-soldiers, want to believe that they are doing God’s work. That sense of purpose is surely critical to the regime’s survival, and will be fundamentally challenged especially if the opposition can generate large protests, which might challenge the mores of young men called upon continuously to bring violence upon young women.
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