PROTESTS AREN'T ENOUGH TO TOPPLE THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC
By Dr. Michael Rubin
Khamenei can weather the public's disdain so long as the Revolutionary Guard serves as his Praetorian Guard. Khomeini, the Islamic Republic's founder, formed the Revolutionary Guard to defend his revolutionary vision. It is more powerful than the Army and answers only to the Supreme Leader. That the Islamic Republic has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian public is now evident to the outside world, but it is not news to the regime. In September, 2007, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the new Revolutionary Guard Chief, reconfigured the force into 31 units -- one for each province and two for Tehran -- on the theory that a velvet revolution posed a greater threat to regime security than any external enemy. Guardsmen are not stationed in their home cities so that they do not hesitate to fire on crowds that might include family and friends.
In the public mind, the Islamic revolution 30 years ago looms large. The regime is not aloof to this. It understands the Shah's mistakes and is determined not to repeat them. Next month marks the 10th anniversary of the student uprising, which erupted after the security forces attacked a student dormitory. Their brutality shocked the Iranian public, and demonstrations spread throughout the country. For a few days, regime survival was also subject to speculation.
In the aftermath of the protests, the Chinese government supplied security consultants to Tehran. Rather than bash heads and risk protests and endless cycles of mourning, Iranian security services began photographing demonstrations, after which they would arrest participants over the course of a month when they were alone and could not spark mob reaction. With the assistance of European businessmen, the Iranian government upgraded its surveillance of communication (and the Internet).
Ultimately, the theocracy will fall, only if servicemen in the Revolutionary Guard switch sides. There will be compromise. The end will come only over Khamenei's dead body. Certainly, Iran today is a tinderbox. The question is whether the regime is better at putting out fires than demonstrators are at starting them.
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University, 1999) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2009, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/2166/protests-not-enough-to-topple-islamic-republic)
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