The Unclear Future Of The Iranian Power Struggle

One of the most debated subjects relating to the relationship between Iran and the international community today is the issue of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the Western world, or actually US. There is question on what will happen in the future in this relationship, and consequently in the Iranian internal political relations.

There are many who believe that the agreement will be confirmed from both sides, and thus the so far tensions will be reduced.

In this case, it is very interesting to know what happen, with the internal power struggle in Iran, and thus which direction will be more probable to that this power struggle moves on. One of the most interesting matter in this discussion is perhaps the fate of the reformist current within the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The hitherto situation is that there are two political currents, which since 1997 with Khatami government gradually differed from each other.

The one has the upper hand, while the other sit still under the former’s shadow trying to come out and stabilize itself as a power pole within the Iranian power circle. We should not forget that the so-called reformists on the Iranian political scene still cannot be considered as a stabilized political actor on the scene, but are rather a movement that somehow is trying to guarantee its own survival. The absolute power in Iran is continuously in the hand of the radical broad network within the regime.

Therefore, one of the main questions is whether the seedlings-reform movement will be able to become a strong tree or not.

It is a fact that the radicals since the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran have several times used the currents, who are known as moderates, liberals, pragmatists, reformists, and so on, who generally support the IRI.

Each time the IRI has felt itself threatened as a result of massive pressures, it has gone with these currents in order to bring help. Every cooperative periods between the dominant power and the reformists, has in time, ended with the exclusion of the reformists; casting them time and time again in the shadows.

The question is whether the reformists will this time be able to stay on the stage or will they once again receive the same fate.

The probability of a transformation phase

It is obvious that the regime in its 38 years of life has passed many changes and metamorphoses, but when we talk about a transformation, it means a change in its nature and thus its political identity.

It especially necessitates a movement towards an identity change; not necessarily in the formal ideological structure and the set framework for the political identity, but a transformation from a dysfunctional governance method, to a more modern state apparatus which necessitates a more open society with more interaction and engagement with the international community. One of the main question is whether the IRI is able to implement this transformation.

Mozaffari (2013) believes that regimes such as IRI have behaviours which derive from their ”totalitarianism” nature. He emphasizes that totalitarian regimes, only in special cases, will have to show a limited degree of flexibility. Those cases are situations in which the regime feels to be under massive pressure (Mozaffari, 2013: 196).

Against this background it is difficult to believe that a state such as IRI can suddenly make change on a political nature, under which it has lived with in  38 years.

It is clear that the so called radical faction of the regime, with Ayatollah Khamenei at the head, has almost the whole political and economic power in his hand; control over the country whereby he decides on the decisive affairs in Iran.

However, the recent events, especially the developments since last year and during the negotiations related to the Iranian nuclear program, have indicated that there something has happened deep into the core of the regime’s camp, which has shown noticeable signs different than earlier.

There must be a very long, inevitable and complex process behind Ayatollah Khamenei’s sudden expression “heroic flexibility” (The Iran Primer, September 17, 2013).

It can be said that the groups, who are concerned about their status, mainly their economic privileges, also regime-loyalist people, who are away from the core of the power, but are still loyal to ”the ideals of the revolution”, insist continuously on the irreconcilable line. After all, the most close elements to the core with The Leader at the head, are well aware of how serious the situation is. They know that they  somehow can buy time, which they have done until now, displacing their collapse from one time to another, and from one year to another; yet they know very well that it is not a viable way to survive. The regime shall in particular find ways in which it can survive after Khamenei’s death.

Khamenei’s dilemma seems that he currently stands in the middle of a crossroad with two very different directions; one is a tendency supported from ”the Anxieties” (Delvapasan – a term, which hardliners have recently use to introduce themselves in order to show their dissatisfaction against the nuclear agreement), who are concerned to lose the whole, and the other, a more logical and prospective tendency.

Different scenarios for the future

The management of the regime has grasped the fact that at one pont or another they have to stop with their adventurism, which is purely for domestic consumption. No state can continue with this method of governance forever. The IRI leader may also be aware that the foreign policy, which IRI in the last thirty and several years has applied, doesn’t work any longer, and the regime has to adapt to the expectations from the international community.

Against this background, one can think of probability of one of the following outcomes:

a) The majority of the Iranian people welcome the new policies which can lead to a broad support of the regime. It can be said that the people, who are tired of the regime’s almost forty years adventurism, anti-americanism, political, economic, and social chaos, international isolation, national humiliation in the world, and other problems, are now happy that the regime is finally beginning to be sensible. This probability is about more satisfaction among the majority of people caused by a hope for more economic openness, more foreign investments and thus employment, and probably less difficulties in the everyday social and private conditions.

b) A people, who have suffered under a tyrannic regime for more than thirty years use the opportunities to press on the IRI regime. Their hatred for the regime is such that it cannot be satisfied by this kind of reform. They have been suppressed for several decades, and have patiently waited for an opportunity to overthrow the regime. This probability poses really serious challenges for the regime. It is actually one of the probabilities, which the regime is really afraid of.

c) The international pressure will increase, which the regime extremely fears. It is actually something which the IRI regime has always been afraid of. Therefore, the IRI regime will not be certain that a better relationship with the US does not lead to any additional pressure, and thus IRI’s further retreat from its previous positions. Even the IRI leader has on several occasions said that the Western world doesn’t stop its pressure even if full agreement on the nuclear program comes in the house. The radical part of the IRI believes that the pressures from the US under all circumstance will continue. It can be in form of critics related to the “human rights abuses”, or other. Ahmad Khatami the Friday Imam of Tehran believes “America has different excuses” (Isna, Dec. 31, 2013). He stresses “the ultimate goal of America is crash of the Islamic system” (Ibid). The regime’s senior leaders have repeatedly said that the West and specifically the US are not satisfied with less than the overthrow of the regime.

d) In addition to the above mentioned probabilities, one can imagine a situation as the most ideal for the IRI regime:

d 1) IRI can come out of the isoation from the international community, and establish a normal relationship with the West.

d 2) This relationship doesn’t lead to further pressure from the West and the Westerners’ intent for the collapse and fall of the IRI. The IRI wishes that especially the US remove from the table the plan to ”overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

d 3) IRI can continue with the existing internal policy, and thus continue its control of the country, and at the same time the IRI establishes a normal relationship with the international community, and especially with the Western world with the US at the head.

It can be said to be a form of ”Chinese model”. It is actually a term for a form of ”survival” of the regime, which in particular under the Ahmadinejad’s Government was widely used. While China since the 1980s opened the door to the international ”capitalistic” investments, it tried to maintain its political control over the country; it will say an economic development without a political withdrawal.

There is nobody, who can say anything with certainty about the future political direction, and what happens with the internal political power struggles and political relations in Iran. At the current time we just can make some speculations based on the past events in this country.

Each of the possibilities mentioned above is completely different from the other, and thus each of them can determine the destiny of the country in a certain direction. However, it can also be said that the Middle East is a region of the world, for which a political prediction is very difficult.


  • Isna, Dec. 31, 2013. In Persian. ”Ahmad Khatami: The main purpose of America, is crash of the Islamic system”.
  • Mozaffari Mehdi, The Role of Ideology in Iranian Foreign Policy, in “Chehabi H. E, Farhad Khosrokhavar, Clément Therme, Iran and the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century. Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, California, 2013.
  • The Iran Primer, September 17, 2013. ”Khamenei on Diplomacy : “Heroic Flexibility”.

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