Inside Iran: what’s subsequent? | The Economist

published on July 3, 2020

Iran’s leaders are facing unprecedented pressure from abroad and at home

When an American drone assassinated General Qassem Suleimani

it sent shockwaves around the world

Not only was he Iran’s most senior military commander

he was also a legend within his own country

Iran’s regime vowed bloody vengeance

But its immediate retaliation seemed designed to avoid escalation

It fired missiles into two Iraqi bases, which host American soldiers

On Iranian TV it claimed to have caused great damage

in reality the missiles killed no one

But then Iran made a horrific blunder

Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

mistook a Ukrainian passenger jet for a missile and shot it down

Everyone on board died, including 82 Iranians

The disaster, and the way it was handled

has sparked widespread anti-government protests in Iran

It has also exposed cracks in the country’s theocratic regime

Immediately after the crash

Iran’s government said that it was caused by a mechanical failure

They didn’t admit that it was, in fact, an Iranian missile

that had shot it down until the weight of evidence from overseas

made it impossible for them to deny this fact

Three days later the Revolutionary Guard issued a statement

admitting the mistake and the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani

confirmed it on Twitter

You’ve seen a surge of fury inside Iran

You’ve seen people coming out into the streets to demonstrate

even at the risk of being forcibly dispersed and even shot at

You’ve seen artists and sports people saying they no longer wish

to be under the Iranian flag

You’ve seen newspapers apologising to their readers

for having spread the lies of the government for so long

Iran’s only female Olympic medallist, Kimia Alizadeh

publicly defected from the country

in a blistering Instagram attack on the regime

in which she described herself as

“one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran”

Iranians have been dissatisfied with their government for a long time

The economy is doing terribly

Iran ought to be a reasonably well-off country

It has a well-educated, sophisticated citizenry

It has a lot of people who understand how to do business

It has a millennia-old tradition of trading

And yet, it’s doing absolutely terribly

Now, this is partly the fault of sanctions that have been placed on the regime

But it’s also because of the incompetence of the government

Protesters rallied against the government in 2017 and 2019 in provincial cities

The latest unrest began in Tehran, Iran’s capital, and has rippled outwards

The kind of people that we’ve seen

demonstrating against the government recently

it’s different from the groups that we’ve seen before

It’s a wider selection of people and it includes a lot more established

sort of middle-class people

They’re fed up with their government’s incompetence

with its brutality and with its endless banging of drums for war

when many people feel that it should be concentrating on

the appalling state of the Iranian economy

Prominent members of Iran’s parliament have retired

and there are calls for President Rouhani to resign

However, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader

remains unrepentant

The goings on inside the Iranian regime are completely non-transparent

and it’s very hard to tell which faction is up

who’s fighting against whom and who’s likely to end up in control

when the ageing Ayatollah Khamenei ultimately dies

But one thing is certain, the regime is very unsettled by this

and by the reaction to it

The plane disaster, together with the economic gloom

has tarnished the credibility of the Islamic regime

So what are Iran’s next steps?

Its leaders are clearly worried

but they show no sign of giving in to the protesters

Many Iranians are reaching the end of their patience with their rulers

That doesn’t mean the regime is going to fall straight away

Regimes that are prepared to shoot people, which this one is

can last for a very long time

The regime will do whatever it takes to keep its grip on power

It will also continue to stir up trouble in the wider Middle East

It will keep enriching uranium, which could be used to make a nuclear bomb

And it will probably seek revenge for the death of Suleimani

The most likely consequences include

future covert, deniable assassinations by Iranian proxies in the Middle East

That could be a soft target

an American businessman, a Jewish diplomat

More attacks on Americans might prompt President Trump

to withdraw more American forces from the region

If American troops were to pull out of Iraq

the country would fall apart

into squabbling Shia, Sunni, Arab and Kurdish factions

and that Islamic State might come back in Iraq

So that would be very risky

Suleimani’s death has rattled the Iranian regime

Ordinary Iranians are sick of their rulers wasting huge sums

on foreign military adventures

when the economic situation at home is so dire

Suleimani’s legacy was to help make Iran a global pariah

crushed by sanctions

His death probably won’t change that

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