The Atlantic

The Battle for Iran

Change will not come easily, peacefully, or soon.
Source: AP

Protest movements in the Middle East face enormous repressive hurdles and rarely have happy endings. Even when protesters “succeed” in toppling an autocrat, they’ve rarely succeeded in ending autocracy.

In Iran, the obstacles to success are daunting. Whereas most Middle Eastern countries are ruled by secular autocrats focused on repressing primarily Islamist opposition, Iran is an Islamist autocracy focused on repressing secular opposition. This dynamic—unarmed, unorganized, leaderless citizens seeking economic dignity and pluralism, versus a heavily armed, organized, rapacious ruling theocracy that espouses martyrdom—is not a recipe for success.

And yet, against this inauspicious backdrop, Iran’s mushrooming anti-government protests—although so far much smaller in scale than the country’s 2009 uprising—have been unprecedented in their geographic scope and intensity. They began slogans like “leave Syria alone, think about us.” They soon spread to , Iran’s holiest city, where protesters expressed nostalgia for Reza Shah, the 20th-century modernizing autocrat who ruthlessly repressed the clergy. They continued in provincial towns, with thousands chanting, “we don’t want an Islamic Republic” in , “death to the revolutionary guards” in , and “death to the dictator” in . They’ve since spread to Tehran, and hundreds have been , the BBC reported, citing Iranian officials.  

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