To start with, it should not be understood from this analysis that the Iranian regime is crumbling and about to collapse. The truth is that the regime in Tehran is strong in its structures and apparatus, and it represents a strong sector that cannot be easily removed by demonstrations. However, the importance of the current popular dynamic in Iran, which took us by surprise again as it did in 2009, is that it could be a conducive factor leading to partial or total change in the future.
But before discussing the implications of the popular dynamic in our region, we must discuss its effects on Iran and its regime which would of course affect us. There are many possibilities. First, that the security forces will be able to suppress the demonstrations as they did eight years ago, without hesitating to kill unarmed protesters in front of mobile cameras. Second, that the regime will offer some concessions to absorb the crisis, such as dismissing President Hassan Rouhani and his government while continuing to suppress the uprising. The third possibility is that the demonstrations might become larger and more violent, benefiting from disputes between internal forces in the regime—such as the dispute between the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the regular army over which will dominate the system. The fourth possibility, which is quite unlikely, would be the total collapse of the regime, turning the situation in Iran into one similar to those in Libya and Syria.
“If the popular uprising succeeds in ending Iran’s foreign operations and forces the regime to focus instead on internal reform and development, this would be the ideal option”
Overall, the disturbances in Tehran have been painful and have shaken the confidence in the regime of most Iranians and the outside world. Therefore, the regime is obliged to reconsider its position even if it manages to quell the demonstrations in the next few days. The recent speech by President Rouhani indicated that the government had to listen to its people. However, in case the third or fourth possibilities occur, there would be serious internal and regional consequences arising from the collapse of the regime.
As far as we—and I mean the states in the region—are concerned, the ideal situation would be the continuation of the present regime but with a change in its foreign policies and an end to its hostile projects. This view may seem strange, but the justification is that the region is already suffering from a great deal of destruction and cannot afford new chaos, additional civil wars, and many more refugees. But if the popular Iranian uprising succeeds in changing Iranian foreign policies and ending its foreign operations, and forces the regime to focus instead on internal reform and development, this would be the ideal option compared with the frightening scenario if the regime were to collapse.
The defect of this hypothesis is that the nature of the Iranian regime is not civil and, hence, is incapable of changing itself. Rather, the regime is theological and relies on force. In other words, it is a fascist theological regime. Therefore, it would be quite hard for it to reform its thoughts and views of the world. This is a question the supreme leadership of Iran, which must be in permanent session due to the dangerous developments, needs to discuss.
Should the regime weather the crisis and benefit from its lessons, it may survive. However, if it insists on confronting the demonstrators with bullets, and possibly with scapegoats to satisfy the angry crowds, more popular explosions cannot be ruled out in the future. The leaders of the IRGC, together with the supreme theological leadership, are apparently arrogant. They think that they can expand the republic and make it a regional empire, geographically occupying some nearby states, competing with international powers, and threatening their interests in the Middle East, seeking to besiege Saudi Arabia and threaten Israel, and fighting multiple simultaneous wars. This is the way arrogant people think, ignoring the limits of Iranian power in a country whose people are suffering, and which is considered to have one of the poorest regional economies.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist.
He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed