NIAC Memo: Has Iran Reached a Breaking Point?



As protesters poured into the streets of Iran in the biggest and bloodiest demonstrations since June, Trita and Rouzbeh Parsi say this time could be thebreaking point. Plus, view our gallery of the protests below and watch new video from Iran.

With the government growing increasingly desperate—and violent—the new clashes onthe streets in Iran may very well prove to be the breaking point of the regime.If so, it shows that the Iranian theocracy ultimately fell on its own sword. Itdidn't come to an end due to the efforts of exiled opposition groups or theregime-change schemes of Washington's neoconservatives. Rather, the Iranianpeople are the main characters in this drama, using the very same symbols thatbrought the Islamic republic into being to close this chapter in a century-oldstruggle for democracy.

Protestsflared up again because of Ashura, the climax of a month of mourning in theShiite religious calendar. It is a day of sadness for the death of the ProphetMuhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussain, who was martyred in 680. And this year thecommemoration coincided with the seventh day after the death of dissident GrandAyatollah Ali Montazeri, adding to the significance of the day. Ashura is alsoa reminder that the eternal value of justice must be defended regardless of theodds of success. This has provided the relentless Green movement with yetanother opportunity to outmaneuver the Iranian government by co-opting itssymbols and challenge its legitimacy through the language of religion. Atprotests Sunday, at least 10 demonstrators were killed by police.

Thisbattle cry for justice in all its simplicity is where most politicalconflagrations start. It is the deafness of the powers that be that often makethem the kernel of something larger and more earth shattering. It is testimonyto the arrogance of power that a simple and rather modest call foraccountability and justice is beaten down only to return, demanding more, andless willing to compromise and accommodate.

Andit wouldn’t be the first time. In 1906, the call for a house of justice wentunheeded and was followed by demonstrations, and eventually transformed into ademand for a written constitution. Similarly, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, inhis imperial ineptitude, brought on himself an increasingly anti-monarchicalcoalition, ranging from liberals and communists, to the victorious Islamistswho forged the Islamic republic in 1979.

Ashura,with its story of perseverance and martyrdom in the face of overwhelming forceof oppression, was a perfectly stylized allegory for the struggle between themighty state of the shah and the revolutionaries at the end of the 1970s. The Shiite mourning rituals, with their revisiting of the dead on the 3rd, 7th and 40th day of death, provided the demonstrators then, as well as now, with the opportunity to both remember those who died for the cause as well asre-iterating their opposition and condemnation of that state repression. This played an important role in bringing the simmering political discontent to aboiling point and wearing down what was perceived as the all-powerful Pahlavi state in 1977-78.

Itis even more important this time around because there is no extensive leadership structure that steers the opposition. The ability to bring outcrowds for important days of the calendar, religious and revolutionary ones, reminds everyone that they are not alone in their opposition to the current government.

Noone can predict a revolution nor say with certainty when an authoritarian state loses its footing if not its grip. For it is not necessarily its ability or will to repress that will falter as much as ordinary people's unwillingness to allow themselves to be cowed and intimidated. It is a battle of wills where, on the one hand, the constant mobilization and tension pervading a discontentedand rebellious society tests the state machinery's ability to endure as theytry to perform their functions (including repression). Weighing in on the otherside of the balance is the patience and capacity to stomach pain and sufferingby the protesters and their sympathizers in all quarters of society.

Today a significant number of the original revolutionaries of 1979 are imprisoned orbeing harassed by shadowy groups from the borderlands of state authority. Theconstituency of the Islamic republic is becoming increasingly alienated as the hard-line faction ruling Tehran demands loyalty to an increasingly surreal understanding of, and vision for, Iranian society. Not much is left of the dynamism and visions that fuelled the revolution of 1979—but having learned from that experience, the demands of the reformist movement today are much more sophisticated and their abstention from violence so much more promising for the future.

The state's ability to use the language of religion to repress these developments is failing. Again and again, religion has proven itself to be much better suited as a language of resistance than governance. This became increasingly clear to Khomeini himself after the success of the revolution. In the constant bickering within the revolutionary elite, Khomeini increasingly invoked reasonsof state for justifying actions, demoting religion to the role of ideological veneer. By the end of his life, he stated that the state could abrogate the basic principles of Islam if it deemed necessary for the survival of theIslamic republic.

Instead of a system where religious thinking controlled and wielded state power, he ended up with an arrangement where the state utilized religion for its ownpurposes, emptying religion and its language of substance, discarding it on thegrowing heap of unfulfilled promises of the revolution.

Ashura, the commemoration and the principle it invokes, proves to be relevant yet again, as those who hold the reins of power in Tehran unleash violence againsttheir own people. Undoubtedly the people of Iran will persevere in their questfor greater freedom and justice through their nonviolent transformation of thesystem from within. It will indeed be ironic if the Iranian theocracy begins tocrumble on the most important religious day of the Shiite calendar.

Rouzbeh Parsi is research fellow at the European Institute for Security Studies. Trita Parsi is the president of the National Iranian American Council and the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.


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ramin parsa

The kiss of DEATH for NIAC

by ramin parsa on

When a die-hard IRI apologist, one as committed as sargord Q to its survival, trumpets the cause (and good name) of the increasingly mercurial (read: desperate) NIAC, that's all you need to know about the true intentions of the NIAC.

Guilt by association, the kiss of death.



by Q on

the world is complex. Just because you had made an incorrect and hasty generalization before, doesn't mean NIAC has changed it's values now.

It is a perfect demonstration that NIAC should ignore its ideological critics. As I suggested before, no matter what NIAC does, these people are against it. They don't have any principles. The only thing they are motivated by is NIAC's success.

It's best to stay with your own constituents and forge your own path.


NIAC Takes the Winner-Gobbledygook

by Ahura on

Lots of disparate issues are weaved in this cocoon and in the medley the headline question is left unanswered. So is the writers’ assessment of the nature of Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) theocracy.  But they do state that, Undoubtedly the people of Iran will persevere in their quest for greater freedom and justice through their nonviolent transformation of the system from within.”   

The conclusion of this gobbledygook is “this theocracy is reformable and we side with the winner.”  But the facts clearly show that IRI cannot be reformed from within to a secular democracy demanded by the opposition movement. NIAC get onboard, Iran needs a regime change.


Calling for debate over NIAC

by ramintork on

I think NIAC and its loyalty to the Iranian community needs a good debate so I have opened the debate in a new blog.



cyclidforward: I couldn't

by vildemose on

cyclidforward: I couldn't agree more. It's truly sad that the lies are so transparent.


NIAC, Make up Your Mind!

by eroonman on

God look at yourself! Even as a kiss ass you are disloyal! First you insert yourself into advocating US-Iran dialogue, pose as pundits on TV via TP and his "ideas", and now that it appears your bet may be finally lost, you're switching sides? Hear and learn this! You are irrelevant! But above ALL you are unauthorized to pose as the National Iranian American Council! Council of what? The majority of Iranian Americans have never been asked if they want to have a council, and even if they did, as much as you may want to be "it", you aren't qualified! Please Please Please stop this posing! It's embarassing!

You Can't Always Get What You Want


We will not forget when NIAC stood against us

by seannewyork on

now they have had to change their tune and accept that we want regime change.


Get serious

by cyclicforward on

NIAC, first get your English and grammar correct and next get serious about the subject. It was all about ISLAM with Khomeini. Whatever he did was for Islam and not the welfare of Iranians. He was also also in no mood of sharing power and ideas with anyone. So, I don't understand what you are talking about here or may be you are talking about another country.


Thank you NIAC

by Patriot on

I am glad you are getting the voice of Iranians out. In time, and just as they said to Obama (ya ba oona ya ba ma), Iranians will remember who stood with them during these difficult times and who didn't. Thank you NIAC for all your hard work.

I am glad to see NIAC post its own articles and news items on  There are some members of the "wind party" on this site who now claim they are diehard NIAC supporters.  Their speaking on NIAC's behalf is not a credit but a discredit to NIAC's image. Thank you for doing your own PR work.