During a recent speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted that America would support the Iranian people should they seek to replace their regime. “While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country,” Pompeo said, “the United States…. will support [their] long-ignored voice…”
What “direction,” then, is that? Are the Iranian people actually seeking regime change? If they are, why have past protests failed and how can current demonstrations have a better chance of success?
Some commentators are suggesting that today’s demonstrations indicate that the regime of the mullahs may be in trouble. This idea is partly based on the recollection that the general structure of Tehran and other cities remain much as it did in the late 1970s, when merchants played a critical role in the overthrow of the late Shah Reza Pahlavi. Today, however, the political power, financial strength and religious influence of the bazaar class is much reduced.
Within two years of establishing the Islamic Republic, however, the theocratic regime carried out a massive purge of politically active businessmen in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar; presently, economic influence is in the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and ideological theocrats affiliated with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The IRGC is now a powerful economic conglomerate in Iran, with IRGC veterans heading major industries. IRGC retirees are able to take economic advantage of their political contacts in the Majles, Iran’s parliament, many of whose members are also IRGC veterans.