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As several states seem to experiment with opening up, Iran has made headlines as one of the countries experimenting with a gradual reopening of the country. However, the Iranian regime’s consistent mishandling of the crisis raises the question of whether this reopening too will be mismanaged, and whether the country will reach a point where the alienation felt by the Iranian public be enough to be a major tipping point for the regime.
Iran’s failures during the coronavirus crisis has presented a sort of existential crisis for the regime. Its early inability to admit to, much less contain the outbreak—and its subsequent inability to manage the public health response required by COVID19, have shown the regime’s indifference to the wellbeing of the its own people, steadily increasing the public’s sense of alienation.
The catastrophe that has unfolded in Iran is in several ways reminiscent of history’s worst nuclear accident, which occurred in the former Soviet Union just 34 years ago. Many mark the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which killed thousands, as the moment that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union five years later. More than anything else, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster helped the people of Soviet Union realize that they had been systematically lied to by the Soviet regime for over 70 years. As Soviet leaders scrambled to cover up the disaster, their denials and concurrently slow efforts to contain the leak demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice human lives in order not to embarrass the state. This undeniable reality as the Chernobyl disaster became too large to hide and prompted even loyal citizens to question their government—this stark example of state failure helped the entire system begin to unravel.
The slow reaction of the current Iranian Regime, like Soviet leaders, revealed their total disregard for their own people, gradually shattering the illusion of supremacy. In the former USSR, this disillusionment opened a path to a stronger “Perestroika,” which in turn unraveled the mechanisms of fear that had helped keep the regime apparatus in place. And while the dynamics of the two states are different in many ways, the stakes of a potential Chernobyl moment in Iran are just as high for the region and the world.Continue reading