Analysis: Iran’s leaders in ‘disarray’ struggle to close ranks amid protests, experts say

  • Succession power struggle complicates response to unrest
  • Hardliners fear ethnic minority uprising
  • Rights groups dispute the official death toll
  • Say thousands arrested in Iran, hundreds injured
  • Iranian leaders undecided on how to end unrest – analysts

DUBAI, September 30 (Reuters) – Iran’s religious leaders are eager to crush mass protests against the government, but maneuvers over the eventual succession to the supreme leader and differences over security tactics have complicated efforts to curb protests. unrest, said three analysts and an official. .

Ever bolder protests, sparked by the death of a woman in police custody, have put Iran’s leadership on the defensive, with officials seemingly unable to close ranks behind an agreed response to the turmoil, analysts and analysts said. the manager.

Challenging the legitimacy of Iran’s highest authority, protesters this month burned photos of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for the fall of the Islamic Republic and chanted “Death to the dictator”, unfazed by security forces using tear gas, truncheons and, in some cases, live ammunition.

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The unrest poses a grave threat to the priority that has defined the Khamenei regime – the survival of the four-decade-old Islamic Republic and its religious establishment, at all costs.

But the fact that the unrest coincided with rumors of his frail health – he is 83 – has only made matters worse, as the faction-dominated elite are concerned about his possible succession, analysts said. and the manager.

Although in theory an 86-member body known as the Assembly of Experts will choose the next leader, high-level negotiations and influence maneuvers have already begun, making it difficult for the establishment to s unite around a set of security tactics.

“This race has caused disarray within the leadership. Deepening the rift is the last thing we need when the country is in turmoil,” said a hardline official.

“The main question right now is the survival of the Islamic Republic.”

Khamenei himself has remained silent on the protests, which quickly turned into a revolt against what protesters said was growing authoritarianism by ruling clerics.

The two names that come up most often in succession speculation are President Ebrahim Raisi and Khamenei’s second son, Mojtaba, said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Neither of them has popular support, but what keeps the Islamic Republic in power is not popular support, but repression. Both men have a deep experience of repression,” he said. declared.

MORE DIFFICULT MEASUREMENTS

Brazen protesters directed their anger at Mojtaba Khamenei, risking the wrath of his almighty father.

“Mojtaba, may you die and not become the Supreme Leader,” could be heard in videos of the protests on Twitter.

Alarmed by the depth of popular discontent and outrage, some senior religious leaders and politicians have called for restraint to avoid bloodshed that could galvanize and embolden protesters.

But that hasn’t stopped hardliners from calling for tougher measures.

“Part of the establishment fears that this time the use of more lethal force will push the Islamic Republic to the point of no return,” said a former senior Iranian official.

However, top authorities like the hardline Raisi said the protests “would not lead to regime change”.

Videos on social media show Iranian security forces struggling to end protests, which were sparked by the September 13 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She had been arrested for “inappropriate dress” by the morality police who apply the law. Strict Islamic Republic dress code. Read more

Reuters could not verify the videos.

The protests have spread from Amini’s Kurdish hometown of Saqez to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with all sections of society including ethnic and religious minorities.

Fearing an ethnic uprising and in a show of power, Iran fired missiles and drones at targets in the neighboring Kurdish region of northern Iraq after accusing Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest. Read more

Rights groups say Kurds and other religious and ethnic minorities face discrimination under the clerical establishment.

A collapse of the Islamic Republic may seem distant in the short term, as its leaders are determined not to show the kind of weakness they say sealed the fate of the US-backed Shah in 1979, Reuters has been told. a senior Iranian official.

“ATTRITION REPRESSION”

But rampant repression seems off the menu, for now.

Assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Saeid Golkar said “further delegitimization of the regime” may be behind the establishment’s decision to choose “repression through attrition instead of of the iron fist strategy of 2019”.

Protests over rising fuel prices in 2019 – when Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed – were the bloodiest confrontation in the Islamic Republic’s history.

Iranian state media said 41 people, including members of the security forces, died during the unrest. Amnesty International said on Friday that “the crackdown has left at least 52 identified dead and hundreds injured so far.” Thousands of people have been arrested, according to rights groups.

International support for the protests has made it more difficult for authorities to crack down, especially since there is no apparent leader of the protest who can be identified and arrested.

Iranian leaders have accused a coalition of “anarchists, terrorists and foreign enemies” of orchestrating the unrest – a narrative few Iranians believe.

“Iranian leaders are likely trying to see if a combination of internet shutdowns, mass arrests and violence against protesters will slow the momentum of the protests,” said Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome.

“But I don’t think anyone should doubt that at the end of the day the state has the backing of loyal law enforcement ready to kill their fellow citizens who can be called upon to end this series of protests. “

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Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Michael Georgy and William Maclean

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