News / Middle East

    Scholars Ponder Question: Why Not an Iran Spring?

    Iranians take part in the funeral of Sanee Zhaleh, a student who was shot dead during an opposition rally on in Tehran, February 16, 2011
    Iranians take part in the funeral of Sanee Zhaleh, a student who was shot dead during an opposition rally on in Tehran, February 16, 2011

    Since the beginning of this year, a number of Arab states have experienced protests and calls for significant reforms. Two of these nations, Tunisia and Egypt, saw their leaders toppled.  Meanwhile, Iran has seen very little recent public dissent against its regime despite massive protests two years ago after a controversial presidential election.  In Washington, scholars gathered recently to discuss why Iran has not seen a so-called "Spring" of change.

    In recent months, protesters have filled the streets of Tunis, of Cairo, Manama, Sana'a, and Damascus.


    But not the streets of Tehran.  Only two years ago, Iran's presidential election sent tens of thousands into the streets demanding change and accountability. For a short time this February there were some pro-democracy protests. But today, they're not visible.

    A recent symposium in Washington explored the reasons for this.  Former Italian ambassador to Iran Roberto Toscano, who is now with the Woodrow Wilson Center, explained why Iran's iron-clad regime has made it difficult, so far, for the opposition to succeed.

    "The bad news is that no democratic movement has ever prevailed against a unified armed force," Toscano said.

    Iran's military, its Revolutionary Guards, and its security apparatus, including the paramilitary Basij militia, remain firmly in the government's control.

    George Mason University professor Shaul Bakhash pointed out that the two most visible Iranian opposition figures, Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karroubi, remain under house arrest, preventing them from directly engaging and energizing opposition forces. Bakhash said tales of stiff jail sentencing and harsh prison treatment leave people who oppose the government intimidated.

    "I think there are enough credible reports of deliberate mistreatment of men and women in prison, including rapes, to make clear that this is what will happen to you if you continue in dissent and opposition," Bakhash said.

    During the two years since Iran's presidential election, there has been a wave of arrests, trials, and imprisonments. But Ambassador Toscano says the government's behavior, while intended to create fear, also points to its weakness.

    "The good news is that repression alone cannot guarantee the continuation of any regime. If the regime loses support to the extent that it has to rely only on repression, then its future looks very dim," Toscano said.

    But another Iran analyst, RAND Corporation's Ali Reza Nader, says there are several factors why repression by the state will not protect it forever.

    "Number one is the ever-expanding public dissatisfaction with the system. The second one is internal divisions within the political system in Iran. And, we see more of those every day. And the third is the lack of legitimacy. I think the Islamic Republic lacks legitimacy not only among the population, but also, within the elite," Nader said.

    Still, Ambassador Toscano says that even though cracks are widening in the regime, change is prevented through a concept called Velyat e-Faqi - ultimate authority resting with the Supreme Leader.

    The Velyat e-Faqi is not compatible with any sort of democracy - gradual, partial, whatever. The only hope - we talk about the demise [of the presence and the power of the Supreme Leader] - looking at the constitution, the Iranian constitution, you see the possibility of replacing the Supreme Leader with a council," Toscano said.

    Today, the Iranian government projects an image of total control.  The quiet streets of Tehran and other cities are, to regime supporters, proof of that. But analyst Nader says a backlash lies beneath that surface.

    "I think the reality is quite different. I think what we are witnessing in Iran today is really the calm before the storm," Nader said.

    Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
    and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Video Canine Reading Buddies Help Students With Literacy

    Idea behind reading program is that sharing book with nonjudgmental companion boosts students' confidence and helps instill love of reading

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora