Why the Islamic Republic Has Survived

A cleric in his car on February 11, 1979, day of the victory of the revolution. (Abbas/Magnum Photos)

A U.S.-based Iran scholar argues it was not the eight-year war, a reign of terror, oil revenue, or the strength of Shiism that sustained the regime — but populism.

Middle East Report
By ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN

“Upcoming decades will test the regime’s ability to juggle the competing demands of these populist programs with those of the educated middle class—especially the ever expanding army of university graduates produced, ironically, by one of the revolution’s main achievements. This new stratum needs not only jobs and a decent standard of living but also greater social mobility and access to the outside world—with all its dangers, especially to well-protected home industries—and, concomitantly, the creation of a viable civil society. The regime may be able to meet these formidable demands if it finds fresh sources of oil and gas revenues—but to do so it will need to markedly improve its relations with Washington so that economic sanctions can be lifted. Without the lifting of sanctions, Iran cannot gain access to the technology and capital needed to develop its large gas reserves. If new revenues do not materialize, class politics will threaten to rear its head again. For 30 years, populism has managed to blunt the sharp edge of class politics. It may not do so in the future.”

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