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Is Iran Really "On The Verge Of Collapse"?
Even Executions Have Not Stopped The Protests
On Thursday, December 8, the Iranian government announced it had carried out its first execution related to the protests which have erupted ever since the death of Mahsa Amini roughly three months ago in police custody.
Iran has announced the first known execution of a man convicted over the recent anti-government unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini.
Mohsen Shekari was hanged this morning after being found guilty of injuring a security guard with a knife and blocking a street in Tehran.
Amnesty International already said he was convicted after ‘a grossly unfair sham trial’.
If the objective was to intimidate the protesters into backing down, the execution appears to have backfired bigly.
Shekari’s arrest, trial, and death sentence did little if anything to dissuade protesters, who have continued to turn out in force across the country.
Shekari’s arrest, trial and execution took only weeks, and according to Amnesty International, authorities are seeking the death penalty for at least 21 people in connection with the protests.
His death comes hours after further demonstrations broke out in the capital in a renewed bid to overthrow the Iranian regime.
Videos shared on social media show what looks like hundreds of people heading to Tehran’s famous Azadi Square last night.
Actor Omid Djalili, who was born in London to Iranian parents, shared a video on Twitter of floods of cars.
The night before Shekari’s execution, Djalili tweeted that Tehran itself might actually fall, with a possibility of the Presidential Palace being attacked during that night’s protests.
Obviously, the Presidential palace was not attacked and the capital did not fall to the protesters. Presumably, according to Djalili’s tweet the following day, the protesters were dispersed by snipers.
It is important to note that this information is not at all confirmed, and nothing is known about Djalili’s sources inside Iran.
Yet what does appear to be confirmed is that the protests continued even in the face of Shekari’s execution, and have continued despite his execution.
A video widely shared on social media showed protesters shouting from north Tehran rooftops late into the night "We are all Mohsen" and "Khamenei is a murderer" - in reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Another video showed people lighting candles in front of Shekari's home late on Friday. Reuters could not immediately verify the videos.
Add Mohsen Shekari to the names of those killed during the protests.
The danger for the Islamic Republic is that if executions do not persuade the protesters to back down, the government is rapidly running out of escalation options.
Indeed, with hundreds of people already having been killed by government security forces during the protests, a formal execution seems almost anti-climactic. The protesters already realize that they can be killed. Is hanging really that much different from being gunned down in the streets?
As I have discussed previously, if repeated escalations by the government fail, the end result for these protests will be regime change.
While the government as of this writing is still very much in control of the country, Shekari’s execution appears to have been yet another failed escalation by the government, and thus one more step taken by the government which brings Iran closer to the tipping point of regime change.
Indeed, there may already be cracks forming in the foundations of the regime’s power base among the religious elite, for even as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to continue the as-yet unsuccessful crackdown, a prominent Sunni cleric openly criticized the death sentence and execution, calling them a violation of Shari’a.
A prominent dissenting Sunni cleric on Friday said the death sentence of an Iranian protester involved in anti-government unrest violated sharia law, as President Ebrahim Raisi promised to press on with a crackdown a day after the man's execution.
Molavi Abdolhamid has argued that because Shekari did not kill anybody, under Shari’a he should not have been executed.
Molavi Abdolhamid, an outspoken Sunni cleric in the Shi'ite-ruled Islamic Republic, criticised the death sentence, according to his website.
"When someone has not killed but only blocked a road and stabbed and injured a Basij (militia) member with a knife, he cannot be put to death under sharia," Molavi Abdolhamid said.
Challenging the ruling Shi’ite theocracy on the basis of violations of Shari’a strikes at the core of the ideological foundations for the Islamic Republic. If the ruling mullahs themselves violate Shari’a, the entire governing logic behind the ruling ideology of Velayat-e Faqih collapses. If the ruling “jurists” (clerics) do not themselves comply with Shari’a, the entire edifice of their “guardianship” over the government is tainted and compromised.
Iran’s ruling regime is also facing another potential problem: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is reported to be in ill health, and quite possibly even near death.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is aging and reportedly ill. His looming death, with no clear successor in place, puts the Islamic Republic on the brink of a succession crisis — exactly the kind of challenge that has unraveled many authoritarian regimes in the past. The crisis may soon empower one of Iran’s powerful security organizations, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, to take a direct role in governing Iran for the first time in its history.
Should Khamenei soon shuffle off his mortal coil, Molavi Abdolhamid’s frontal assault on the regime’s theocratic legitimacy in the wake of Mohsen Shekari’s execution could become the catalyzing leadership that focuses the protests and turns them from mere anti-government protests to a true insurrection and rebellion capable of toppling the theocracy.
Alternatively, elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps might also rise to that catalyzing position, as speculated by Murtaza Hussain writing for the Intercept. Little more than an IRGC unit turning on the Basij militia and siding with the protesters would be required, once Khamenei has died and a power vacuum emerges in Teheran’s governing elites.
As of this writing, it is an exaggeration to say that Iran is on the verge of collapse. The protesters are not backing down nor losing heart, and by all outward appearances they are determined to see regime change happen, but a clear leader has yet to emerge around which a rebellion can coalesce out of the anti-government protests. Until that happens, the mullahs’ position is not in immediate jeopardy.
Still, the longer the protests continue, and the more escalations attempted by the government which fail to dissuade the protesters, the closer Iran comes to that point where such a leader emerges from the protests to assume control and galvanize their anti-government energy into a true rebellion against the government. If at the same time Khamenei is lingering at death’s doorstep, his sudden demise would knock the key support for the regime out from underneath.
With the protests already doing much to stress and destabilize the regime, any major body blow such as Khamenei’s sudden demise would likely be all that is required to push Iran past the tipping point of rebellion and most of the way towards an inevitable regime change.
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