Tariq Al-Homayed
Saudi journalist and writer, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Iran… The Turban and the Soldiers

The protests currently underway in Iran tell us that the legitimacy of the regime is weakening or withering away. We are not looking at a familiar scenario. Just as we used to say that the conditions of the countries that witnessed what has falsely been called the Arab Spring are not similar, the potential changes to the Iranian model do not resemble others.

Change, if it were to take place in Iran, would not resemble anything we had seen before, even in Iran itself. Indeed, no one expects the Supreme Leader to get on a plane and leave the country as the Shah had done. This regime is more complicated, and that is its weakness today.

True, the Iranian regime wears a turban. However, this turban hides the army uniform beneath it. The regime has already been militarized, and the turban has become nothing more than a political facade. The turban of the Supreme Leader may well be the last real facade.

Khamenei’s departure is expected to be the turning point that sees the turban replaced by soldiers. Soldiers are expected to rise to the fore after Khamenei’s departure, with the next Supreme Leader expected to be nothing more than their facade. He will not control them as Khamenei had, though he also found himself obliged to cooperate with them in order to grow his influence.

As the Khomeinist ruling class, Khomeini's generation and the one that followed it, faded into the background, the soldiers were rising up the ladder. They established a strong presence in all institutions, building a solid base in every facet of the regime, especially the departments running the economy.

The soldiers are expected to impose their dominance as soon as Khamenei departs. In the event that the protests continue, the soldiers could impose their control more swiftly, given reports about Khamenei’s declining health, either through a soft or clear coup.

Whoever contemplates the Iranian scene will find that the Mullah regime has become frail. It has used up all of its domestic opportunities and tricks, and its foreign expansion exceeds its capacity. Given how the United States struggled to wage two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) simultaneously, what could be said of the tribulation of the Iranian regime, which has expanded in four countries and is now getting involved in Ukraine?

Moreover, the Russians had to reduce their military footprint in Syria because of its war with Ukraine, so we can only imagine how Iran- whose economy is in dire straits, is being rocked by protests and sanctions and is isolated from the rest of the world- will manage. Logic leads us to the obvious conclusion that it cannot continue to expand or maintain the gains it has made abroad.

Add the changes expected in US foreign policy, especially if the Democrats lose control of both Chambers of Congress. The Republicans’ arrival can only spell more pressure on the Mullahs.

And so, the IRGC and the other soldiers in Iran have room to maneuver politically, both domestically and abroad. This wiggle room could grant them two decades if they decide to run the country. They are taking this path, but conditions could force them to accelerate the process.

Thus, the threats of the IRGC Commander last Saturday, warning protesters that it would be their last day in the streets, is a turning point. It is not a turning point for the people and their movement but in terms of how explicit the military’s role is to the Iranian people as the influence of the turbans declines and the protests persist.

Furthermore, the soldiers’ prestige is on the line as the turbans lose theirs in the eyes of the Iranians on the streets. This suggests that the soldiers have indeed entered the fore. Will they wait for the Supreme Leader’s departure or impose their control now?

I think the region and everyone should prepare for every possibility.