Is there a way for the Iranian regime to survive?

For almost two months, Iranian citizens have been protesting the mullahs. The question now is whether the mullahs have viable options for maintaining their power while dealing with the protesters. I offer three possible strategies the mullahs might contemplate. The first two are unlikely to work, but the third does provide a path…if the mullahs are willing to respond to the Iranian people’s demands (e.g., political, economic, social, etc.). Their recent history, though, indicates that they are unlikely to do so.

The current nationwide uprising in Iran didn’t come from nowhere. In the 13 years, there have been several uprisings, with the most recent in 2017 and 2019. In each case, the mullahs responded brutally, burning their bridges when it came to a negotiated peace with their own people. They have trapped themselves, and the people know it.

Since the latest protests began, the regime’s top officials have insisted that the protests have ended or will end soon—but the evidence says otherwise. With every day that passes since the beginning of the Iranians’ nationwide uprising, it becomes larger in terms of numbers, geographic reach, and protester courage. When the government kills protesters, people do not leave the streets, they only become angrier and more determined.

Given protests more serious than any the mullahs have faced before, what options do the mullahs have? This post examines three possible strategies that the Iranian regime can follow to end the protests.

Image: Ayatollah Khamenei. YouTube screen grab.

First, the regime can continue to assault its people but stop short of using more intense military weapons. Guns, clubs, arrest, torture, and imprisonment are the weapons of choice. Upgrading the attacks on the people might trigger full-scale warfare, which would result in mass slaughter. As it is, the current tactic has previously caused people to lose hope and retreat.

The problem is that more people have taken to the streets than ever. At a certain point, it’s impossible to lock up everybody. The best that can happen is that the current stalemate between the government and the people will continue.

Second, the Khamenei regime can escalate its aggression against the protesters and resort to mass killings, as it did in 2019. The problem for the regime is that so many people are involved in the protests that the mass killings would rise to unsustainable numbers. After all, this would not be a targeted killing of specific groups. Given the scope of the protests, any mass killings would affect most Iranians, causing an escalation, rather than a decline, in protests.

Third, rather than trying to use some degree of brute force to stop the protests, the Khamenei regime can engage in “dialog and interaction” with the protesters, which some regime insiders are suggesting. In theory, this is the most promising way to end the protests but, in fact, the nature of Iran’s theocracy makes it the least possible.

Since 1979, the regime’s approach to governance is “all or nothing.” The sharia-based nature of its politics—and the mullahs’ loyalty to the 1979 Revolution—make it impossible to change its governance, no matter what the people want.

Given the Mullah’s four-decade track record and the probable options, it currently looks as if the Iranian regime has no way out of the current crisis.

Hassan.Mahmoudi is an Iran & Middle East Political and Economic researcher.

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