The Unraveling Islamic Republic
Iran’s power posturing is designed to disguise the fact that the country is weakening from within.
The recent unrest in Iran has confirmed what many attuned to domestic conditions in the Islamic Republic have long known: that an explosion was not a matter of if, but of when.
The destructive reach of the Islamic Republic of Iran from Africa to South America and via Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq is hardly disputed. Yet this destructive influence serves the hesitance of many in the West to confront what appears as a strong and threatening regime. The riots and demonstration may have faded – but not the realities that created them. And this might provide an important policy lesson: Islamic regime’s power posturing is designed to hide its true weaknesses.
Iran’s economy is in shambles. The days of high oil prices are long gone, and national resources are almost depleted. Despite the JCPOA – an agreement aimed at opening the Iranian market to international investors – Iran’s economy remains in stagflation, with very little prospects for improvement in sight. Iran’s military is over-extended in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, putting further strain on the limited available resources. Inefficient economic policies and endemic corruption waists the rest of the available resources leaving very little for the masses.
In the months and weeks leading up to the current protests, thousands had already taken to the streets in most major cities in the country, demanding an answer to these deficiencies and corruptions.
Almost all of Iran’s financial institutions are either bankrupt or are on the verge of bankruptcy. Many banks and financial institutions have failed leaving hundreds of thousands of depositors penniless. The discovery that the main culprits for these failures were individuals with close relations to the regime, and that many of them have escaped abroad with hundreds of millions of dollars in local wealth, have given the protests an additional boost.
The corruption is so widespread and obvious that even high-ranking and loyal supporters of the regime can no longer deny it. Take, for example, Ahmad Tavakoli, a former conservative member of Iran’s parliament and the former president of the Parliamentary Research Center. He has confirmed that most of the beneficiaries of defunct financial institutions were the children of high-ranking clerics, politicians and influential members of the judiciary. He furthermore revealed in a recent interview that committee members assigned to investigate one of the defunct institutions, Samen- Al Hojaj, had resigned under enormous political pressure.
That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. In recent months, Sadegh Larijani, the powerful head of the judiciary, and his brother Ali Larijani – the head of the Islamic parliament – were publicly accused of corruption and abuse of power by no one other than the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Larijani has been accused of keeping hundreds of billions paid to the judiciary by the people for bail and fines in more than 60 different personal bank accounts collecting enormous amount of interest each month.
Stunningly, Larijani hasn’t denied the charges; he simply explained that he obtained permission from supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei prior to opening the accounts.
Commenting on this affair, First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri – whose own brother was detained on allegations of corruption – said: “Corruption has become an organized phenomenon in the country and I know all too well how deep it runs.”
Corruption doesn’t stop at the cabinet level and goes all the way to the very top. The supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his children are also accused of mismanaging public funds as well. Only few years ago, Reuter’s investigation, “Assets of the Ayatollah,” revealed that Khamenei had amassed the equivalent of a staggering $95 billion.
With Iran’s economic policies failing and the rampant corruption of its leaders exposed so publicly, it has become all but impossible for anyone within the Islamic regime to instill hope and confidence in its governance after nearly four decades of hollow promises and mismanagement.
Hence, it was hardly surprising that when activists called for peaceful demonstration to protest unemployment, rising prices and corruption in the city of Mashhad, thousands showed up. What was surprising was the slogans that people chanted. Beyond unemployment and corruption, the protesters began to challenge the revolution itself, chanting for the revival of the late shah’s Pahlavi Dynasty – a phenomenon that was quickly repeated in other cities. These were not calls for reform – but rather for fundamental change of a system that has failed the Iranian people.
Iran today suffers from an inefficient economy with no true mechanism by which to implement reforms, rampant political infighting and deadlock, endemic corruption, extremely unpopular foreign policy and an increasingly restless population.
As the Trump administration refines its Iran policy, it would be well-advised to take full advantage of the Islamic regime’s internal weaknesses, along with the desire for real change by Iran’s restive population. The time might be ripe for the real tiger to recognize the Islamic regime as the paper tiger it really is