The Islamic Republic of Iran in Transition

The struggle between a revolutionary elite representing the dominant theocratic power structure and the post-revolutionary society striving for the establishment of a more democratic and responsive political structure has reached a new intensity in Iran. This continuing struggle has seriously diminished the legitimacy of the political and cultural order that emerged from the revolutionary upheaval more than two decades ago. Indeed, the Islamic revolution and its institutions have lost all credibility, particularly in the eyes of Iran’s younger generation. A number of factors have contributed to the loss of revolutionary ideals. Most significant among these factors are: The subtle yet profound influence of the Iranian diaspora in the west, the resistance of the middle class to the regime’s cultural restrictions and educational programs and the widespread disenchantment of the first generation revolutionary cadres with the rhetoric and performance of the Islamic regime.

Furthermore, the emergence of a cohesive and vibrant public opinion, deeply focused on the establishment of a democratic order, has presented an unprecedented challenge to the authoritarian elite. Clearly, the burgeoning of the reformist press with the election of Khatami to the presidency played an important role in reflecting public demand for easing social restrictions and instituting liberal democratic reforms.

Perhaps the most important achievement of the 1997 presidential election and the reform movement in general, has been the delegitimization of the ruling elite through the two popularly elected institutions, the presidency and the Majles. Indeed, a faction of the ruling elite in its criticism of the more powerful faction opened up the way for the public to peacefully challenge the legitimacy of the regime as a whole. In other words, the duality in the political system on the one hand sharpened public political awareness and, on the other, empowered the regime to survive in the absence of a serious political crisis. There is little doubt that the reformist faction of the regime will not be able to satisfy the increasing demands of a frustrated public and will thus eventually lose its own credibility. Thus, one may assume that it will not survive the transitional period which itself can not last for long.

Farhad Khosrokhavar
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