Iran at the Crossroads

PARIS — In the weeks since the Iranian election, the government of the Islamic Republic has been publicly divided, delegitimatized and grown increasingly more weak. The current situation offers parallels with the political unrest leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ended the rule of the shah.

Historically, the Iranian government has enjoyed four sources of legitimacy: its competence in managing state affairs, its official religious authority, its commitment to Iran’s independence, and its ability to provide a stable base of social support. All of these have now been irretrievably undone.

The massive vote rigging on June 12 brought President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ability to run the state’s affairs under intense public scrutiny, and the spontaneous uprising in its wake removed the government’s political legitimacy.

Shortly afterwards, in a speech at Friday prayers, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, threatened a violent crackdown unless the official election results were accepted. This removed the last vestiges of the regime’s religious legitimacy as well.

That legitimacy had been waning for some time, even within the regime and among Islamic traditionalists. Ayatollah Ali Sistani (the most prominent Shiite clergyman in Iraq) was opposed to the principle of velayat-e faqih (the rule of the clergy), and Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (Khomeini’s would-be successor who later became his critic) had argued … >>>

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