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TematicheMedio Oriente e Nord AfricaRevolution in Tehran happens only from within. How do...

Revolution in Tehran happens only from within. How do the balances change after Raisi?


At 11 a.m. Italian time – 12:30 Persian time – Kayhan, the newspaper that is closest to the Supreme Leader Khamenei, still reads that the Country is apprehensive about the fate of the President of the Republic. Every other press reported his death hours before. I am not in the position to bring evidence of the fact that the accident was an intentional act. However, it is legitimate to wonder who could benefit from this situation, which will lead the country to moments of deep crisis. According to the Iranian legal system (Article 131 of the Constitution), a 50-day period opens now for elections to install a new government. This period will be managed by the Speaker of Parliament Ghalibaf, Vice-President Mukhbar and the Head of the Judiciary Mohseni-Ejei. The Supreme Leader could instead subvert the cards and directly appoint a President of the Republic. 

A few points need to be clarified:

  1. The powers of the President of the Republic are of executive nature, but the guidelines of the country’s life and the strategic decisions are determined by the Supreme Leader, who also has the last word in any important government decision. The Judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) do not depend on the government but on the Leader. But the Guide must also adhere to the strategic guidelines of the Republic, which derive from its Shiite Islamic-revolutionary nature (principle of Velayat-e Faqih) and from being Iran, that is, from being the bearer of a history, a geography and a network of consolidated relationships that do not change, neither in the republican nor in the monarchical periods.
  2. The succession to Raisi is looming, but it must also be considered that Supreme Leader Khamenei has long been in poor health and is very old. The matter of his succession is an issure of extreme relevance. Khamenei is the second leader after the Pater Patriae Khomeini, but unlike that time (1988), today’s Iran does not live in the crushing embrace of the Revolution and the “imposed” war with Iraq, which had consolidated the country for better or for worse, but in a very strong intergenerational conflict. In fact:
  • The generation of revolutionaries (Enghelabi), i.e. those great masses of people who, since the 1960s, had determined the revolutionary thrust, born out of every segment of opposition to the Shah (communists, liberals, and so on) is now minimal. The Enghelabi have survived only in their Khomeinist version, the lone survivors of the anti-liberal, anti-communist purges and revolutionary trials that took place during the war with Iraq, and they are elderly. The ideological and constitutional backbone of the country was theirs, and the Supreme Leader in a certain sense was born – and lives – in this ideology.
  • The great openings to the world (East and West), with the trade and constitutional reforms of the early 1990s (liberalization of trade and the economy), of which the Rouhani government was the last expression, seem to have come to an end. The ongoing talks with the United States in Oman are all that remain of this, but the establishment of trade ways such as the North-South Corridor and relations with China, India and Russia could draw other strategies: developing trade only in the BRICS world. That would avoid adopting those ideological and political changes that seemed to be at the doorstep under Rouhani. This calms the Guardians’ spirits.
  •  It is precisely the Revolutionary Guards, the Pasdaranwho could benefit most from a crisis in the Country that would not be managed if not in emergency. In fact, they could be entrusted with the security control of the whole Country. This control could then be consolidated with the election – or through the direct appointment – of a President akin to them. Someone whose being a revolutionary would not mean being a direct emanation of the Guide (as President Reisi was) but the expression of a power that would finally consolidate the Guardians as the centre of Persian power. This would mean a new revolution or rather a second phase of it.

Those who could benefit most from a change of government (and Supreme Leadership) within the country are the Pasdaran, who have enjoyed decades of continuous improvements in their status penetrating the Country’s productive system, and using their influence politically and economically. Since Suleimani’s death, their absolute attachment to the Guide has become less rigid. They are, in a sense, aware that they can exist for themselves.

Persian society, which has a very important modern and liberal component, almost overthrew the country’s system in the protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini. In recent years, there have been profound changes in habits, with disaffection towards very important symbols of the regime such as the veil for women and generating a sensitive loss of credibility of the regime, which must therefore be reformed in order continue to live, albeit in a different way. The Guardians could therefore take advantage of this window of opportunities and do – in a very different sense – what Rouhani could have done if the JCPOA had really had its effects. 

In Iran, all change happens from within. Foreign influence, sometimes fancifully referred to as a “factor of change”, would find no success in sophisticated, conscious, and proud Persian society. And the Pasdaran are certainly part of this society.

Francesco Petrucciano

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