Mustafa Fahs

The Iranian Regime is Disintegrating and Facing Defections

It would be no exaggeration to claim that the foundations of the Iranian regime are disintegrating and breaking apart. Its leaders are trying to prevent the publicization of this fact in whatever way they can. The decision to execute Alireza Akbari, the defense minister’s top advisor who had been detained for over three years after questionable accusations of spying were levied against him, might be a means through which the regime hopes to deter any political elites even thinking of defecting or distancing themselves from the regime in support of the protests.

The regime is panicking that these protests may persist and turn into a genuinely destabilizing force four months after they began. The regime cannot contain them any longer, and it is paying the price for not acquiescing to their demands from the start, that is, immediately after Mahsa Amini was murdered. The regime is now resorting to intimidation, and it has warned its elites of the threats that its collapse would pose to everyone, be they reformist and moderate or fundamentalist and conservative. None would escape punishment, and they will be executed “before anything else.”

However, the warnings have turned into threats of being held accountable. Several hardliners in the regime and some among the IRGC top brass have been issuing such threats. Indeed, one IRGC commander issued an ominous threat to senior officials, saying the current crisis “has shown who stands with us and who stands against us, and they will be held accountable for their stances.” This is a stark message sent to anyone demonstrating their sympathy for the protesters and declaring their support for the protesters’ demands. It is also directed at those calling on the most powerful man in the country, the Supreme Leader, to comply with the people’s demands, make bold decisions, and end the extremely violent clampdown by the regime’s ideological apparatus. His message directly concerns prominent figures who had occupied the highest seats of power like Presidents Khatami and Rouhani, in addition to the family of Sheikh Rafsanjani, the opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, cultural, media, sports elites, and every former politician now openly supporting the protest movement.

The exacerbation of internal schisms, anxiety about the prospect of officials defecting under the weight of the growing protests, and the escalating reprovals from within state institutions have all compelled the upper echelons of power to opt for more resolute and robust measures. Within this framework, a draft law banning the travel of former officials abroad, which deputy Rashidi Kochi has presented to parliament. While it was put forward under the pretext of protecting the property and documents of the people and the state, its actual purpose is to prevent internal splits and defections.

As for the other regime faction, i.e., the revolutionary hardliners who rejuvenated the initial spirit of the regime through the presidential and legislative elections and judicial appointments, being sentenced to death or ending one’s political future seems to be the punishment for defection and whoever contemplates deviating from the line drawn by this camp.

For this reason, the decision to execute Akbari, who is close to the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Minister Ali Shamkhani and was arrested on charges of spying for British intelligence three years ago, as well as being part of the teams negotiating a nuclear agreement during Ali Larijani’s terms... is not merely a question of espionage. Rather, it is tied to the political course of action that has been set by those whom he had once worked alongside.

Indeed, the decision to execute Akbari, at this stage, is little more than an extremely stern warning to Shamkhani, Larijani, and the current speaker of parliament, Ghalibaf. They are being threatened because of their role in seeking assistance from reformist and moderate leaders and the families of Khomeini and Rafsanjani, as well as engaging with national social forces. This is, on the one hand, an attempt to resolve the crisis in Iran by bringing disparate viewpoints between the country’s top political elites closer together, and on the other, it is an effort to bridge the gap between the people and the regime.

And so, the decision to execute Akbari exposes the vicious battle to settle the score that has turned bloody and is being fought within the hardline camp as they fight over how to manage the interim period and to whom to name the next Supreme Leader.