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James M. Dorsey

Iran may be on the cusp of change. A conversation with Arash Azizi

On the cusp of change?

Earlier this month, turnout for parliamentary elections and the 88-member Assembly of Experts that appoints Iran’s supreme leader was at 41% an all time low.

In 2022 and 2023. Iran was racked by mass protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini while in the morality police’s custody, Mrs. Amini was detained for allegedly violating Iran’s strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.

Many hoped the demonstrations, like multiple earlier protests, signaled the beginning of the end of Iran’s clerical regime that came to power in the 1979 Islamic revolution. The revolt overthrew the Shah, the first toppling in the last 40 plus years of an icon of US influence in the Middle East.

Hardliners in the United States and elsewhere have called for supporting civil society opposition.

Others advocate breaking Iran apart by supporting ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

A historian and political scientist at South Carolina’s Clemson University, Arash Azizi argues that Iran may be on the cusp of change. It’s just that the change may come from within the regime rather than from the street.

The change is likely to involve a polishing of the sharp edges of the Islamic Republic rather than a transition to democracy. Even so Arash, the author of two books, a biography of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s notorious Quds Force who was killed in 2020 in an American drone strike, and a just published volume on the recent women’s protest movement argued in The New York Times that Supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s inner circle is populated by technocrats and pragmatists rather than ideologues and revolutionaries who want to perpetuate the status quo.

Few will challenge the notion that the eventual passing of the baton by 84-year-old Mr. Khamenei, who is believed to be in poor health, embodies the potential of change, even if the recent Assembly of Experts election was stacked against reformers who were banned from being candidates.

Counterintuitively, Arash sees a ray of hope in the eventual transition to a new Supreme Leader reason enough to welcome Aash to the show.

About the Author
Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute. He is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
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