WASHINGTON – TIME magazine recently had an intriguing cover story about Iran, (Iran 2025, November 16, 2015). Assuming that TIME got it right, the picture that emerges is of a once theocratic regime that, while still pretty much in full control, gave up the massive effort to indoctrinate the younger generations. In different words, the old Khomeini theological fire is dead.
The revolution is over
What I got out of the story is that Iran now is mostly a police state. Even though the messianic language is still used here and there by the top religious leadership, there is no longer any serious effort to educate in a proper way a new generation of dedicated young revolutionaries.
No more hijab
The most interesting fact that supports this argument is that the once obsessively strict regime is no longer imposing its rules on how women should appear in public. The hijab (the head scarf) once was supposed to hide a woman’s hair –all of it.
Well, now it doesn’t anymore. Women still wear the hijab, but casually. Plenty of hair exposed all over the place. And no one is taking any action to enforce the old rules.
Well, this is no mere detail.
The religious zeal is gone
Given the high value attached at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution to strict adherence to all the rules regarding how women should appear in public, this means that the leaders have given up. This means that the regime gave up the project of creating a new society shaped by its true religious values.
Of course, the Ayatollahs did not give up power. They hold on to it. But they have given up their “Mission” –the religious source of their political legitimacy.
A police state
If the Ayatollahs and their supporters are no longer in power to advance a religious agenda, then it means that they are in power only because they control the police and the military.
In other words, the Iranian government is no longer the practical manifestation of a righteous religious movement. It is simply a police state.
Sure enough, the old religious rhetoric is still used in official occasions. But, just like in the latter days of the old Soviet Union nobody believed in Communism, most likely very few in Iran are still motivated by the old ideology that transformed the country back in 1979.
What is the point of all this? The point is that a police state relies on fear and intimidation alone. It has no genuine supporters.
And this makes it vulnerable.
Clearly the Iranian society, after the failed demonstrations of 2009 has no appetite to get into a fight against superior government forces.
But in the long run this regime will crack. Right now the people at the top are united only by their determination to stay in power and milk the system for as long as possible. But this is not a homogeneous political leadership united by its ideological fervor. These are elites who negotiate or fight with one another about who’s getting what.
Rifts among factions
At some point there will be rifts, fights, factions against factions. Furthermore, it is almost certain that people who view power mostly as a tool to enrich themselves are not good stewards. Iran is probably poorly managed. And a long period of rock bottom oil prices will not help much. The extra cash from oil revenue that lubricated the system is gone, at least for a while.
So, can we say that ladies’ hair fully exposed in the streets of Tehran is an indication that the regime is about to fall? Well, I would not go that far.
A spent force
But I would argue that a religious regime that no longer has the zeal to impose its supposedly core values has lost its inner strength. And this is usually the beginning of a process leading to decay, and possibly collapse.
It would be good to keep an eye on how the Iranians perceive all this.
If the writers, the artists and other see more relaxed rules and therefore more open space, they’ll take it. If the regime will not react forcefully and brutally, then this will be further indication that it is a spent force.
A spent force with guns, and may be down the line nuclear weapons, but still a spent force.