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The Iranian Regime… No Retreat, No Reforms

The Iranian Regime… No Retreat, No Reforms

Friday, 9 December, 2022 - 11:45

Whether or not the regime dissolves the morality police, the fact that it has made a concession apparent for all to see under the weight of pressure from the protests is exceptionally significant. This is a hopeless attempt to contain those protests.

The decision itself remains quite ambiguous and does little to suggest that those in power understand the depth of the crisis they are in. The regime is haughtily betting on an imminent change of conditions that allows it to put things back in order in a way that suits it in due time. However, after ten weeks of ongoing protests, the regime has yet to comprehend that time is not on its side and that the protest movement has laid the foundations for widespread displays of civil disobedience in the streets of the country.

This civil disobedience has begun to have implications for the foundations of the regime, pushing prominent figures associated with the revolution and the state to distance themselves from the actions of the authorities. The clearest example of this attempt at self-distancing is the latest statement by former reformist president Mohammad Khatami. He called on Iranian officials to “extend students a helping hand and recognize the wrong aspects of governance before it is too late.”

Khatami’s statement irked the authorities, who attacked him like he had been openly declaring his defection. Indeed, he did go as far as describing the protests’ overarching slogan ‘women, life, freedom’ “beautiful.” This is an extremely bold statement on the part of a religious cleric in a theocratic regime. It is a show of bravery by an influential figure whose words don’t fly over peoples’ heads. It can be framed in an array of ways and placed in a variety of contexts, opening the door to different potential outcomes, especially since there is no real reason to be skeptical of the man’s intentions.

Many accuse him of having embarked on this step to absorb some of the anger on the streets after being pushed to do so by a faction within the regime. However, there is another explanation for his actions; a faction within the regime could well be looking to him to save them before it is too late. In any case, it is remarkable that Khatami has endorsed the most prominent slogan being raised by the protest movement, as the regime cannot compromise on this matter.

This raises a question about the conundrum facing the regime. Can it retreat? Can it somehow benefit from the former president declaring his position?! The nature of the regime probably makes granting genuine concessions impossible, and this means that it cannot implement serious reforms. Here, we need to make a distinction between reforms and the reform movement though there is something that links them together, reforms without reformists.

In fact, the regime cannot give in to demands tied to the veil. On the contrary, the decision to abolish the morality police was taken because the latter failed to fulfill its task. It might give this responsibility to another body that adopts a different method, especially since it has developed a system for financially punishing the women who refuse to wear it by preventing them from making banking transactions. The mandatory veil is an ideological cover for the regime that the protesters are demanding be lifted, and the authorities will never accept this. As for the prospects of this step being a prelude to further reform, the regime is trying not to ensure that its retreat remains purely nominal even if it implies a symbolic victory for the protesters, meaning that reform is impossible.

In this context, many of those who are well-versed in Iranian affairs have come to the conclusion that reform from within the regime is impossible after decades of rule by moderates and reformists. This indicates that the reformists have little influence on the fundamentals of how the regime operates when they are in power, which raises questions about Khatami’s statements and how to categorize them. The way Iranian intellectual Mostafa Malekian sees it, people have lost hope in reforming the regime. “I am not a reformist because I have concluded that all pathways to it are closed,” he said recently. This means that influential Iranian elites have concluded that reforming the regime is impossible.

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