The Crisis of Legitimacy, Strategies of Resistance, and Civil Society

Depending on Whether one looks at the current political situation in Iran from the perspective of the state or that of society, two quite different images emerge. From the point of view of the state, it appears as though the Islamic Republic is becoming more and more economically unstable, politically intolerant, and internationally isolated: It bans all political parties and other forms of independent political activity that could channel legitimate discontents and provide opportunities for participation of a rouse population; its continued attempts to impose a strict Islamic code of public conduct have alienated the urban middle classes; its mismanagement of the economy has resulted in rampant inflation, severe decline in industrial output, high unemployment, mounting foreign debts, and endemic corruption; and its brazen human rights abuses and highly inconsistent foreign policy have left it with few reliable allies within the world community.

And yet, looking beyond the mammoth state apparatus at the society itself, there are signs of normalcy, resilience, and even vitality in many spheres of national life, defying characterizations of Iran as a closed society ruled by a theocratic dictatorship. There is a great deal of enterprise and vigor in those sectors of the economy that are not controlled by the state. Iranian women continue to participate actively in the work force and other spheres of public life in spite of officially sanctioned patriarchal norms and the many objective obstacles that have been placed in their way. Despite the reality of censorship and intimidation of dissidents, there is a vibrant intellectual life in the capital and other major cities. An unprecedented number of artistic, intellectual, scholarly, and professional publications manage to survive under formidable financial constraints and official pressures. And finally, an unknown but sizable number of people defy the authorities' pious maledictions against the Western media and regularly tune into foreign radio and television broadcasts in order to stay informed about the outside world and to find a respite from the stolid programs of the state-run media.

The paper analyzed the current political situation in Iran from the preceding perspectives, with an emphasis in the crisis of legitimacy and the continued factionalism that have plagued the leadership of the Islamic Republic since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Furthermore, it examines the various strategies of social resistance to the policies and actions of the regime by different social groups in the country. The implications of these trends for the development of a civil society are also explored.

Ali Banuazizi
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