Decisions, Decisions

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On March 1, Iranian voters will take part in a legislative election that will be pivotal to the future of their country. On the ballot will be members of the Assembly of Experts, the chamber that will pick a successor to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 84 years old.

“The race for replacing Khamenei has already begun and is very heated, and whatever you’ve seen in Iran in the past two years, and onward, must be analyzed in the context of the struggle and fight over the chair of Khamenei,” an anonymous conservative Iranian official told Middle East Eye.

The fates of the Islamic Revolution and the Middle East are in the balance.

Forty-five years after the mullahs seized power in the capital of Tehran, murals of turban-wearing, bearded Shiite clerics and military heroes in fatigues are plastered everywhere, “a ubiquitous fusion of religion and nationalism, God and country,” wrote ABC News.

The mood in the country is tense, however. Firstly, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody in 2022, as she faced charges of indecency for improperly wearing her head scarf, kicked off major, ongoing protests against the country’s theocrats, the Associated Press explained.

High inflation and other economic woes helped drive the demonstrations, added Al-Monitor. University College Dublin professor of international politics Scott Lucas noted in the Conversation that the country’s dismal economy was likely to decline further still.

Secondly, Iran is currently embroiled in foreign military activities either directly or through proxies in the Middle East and South Asia.

The country is supporting the Palestinian terror group Hamas in its fight against Israel, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Iran and Pakistan also recently traded shots over their border in skirmishes related to Balochi separatists on either side. Lastly, Iran has deep ties to militants in Syria and Iraq, like those who recently fired missiles that killed American soldiers in Jordan.

The US has pushed back on these efforts, though American officials appear keen to deter more Iranian moves rather than start a wider war that could spread easily and cause catastrophe, CNN reported. These developments come as Iran’s allies – Hamas and Russia – fight US-backed opponents – Israel and Ukraine. Along with China, Iran and Russia have formed an alliance to upend the current US-led world order, according to Foreign Affairs.

In this context, the March 1 elections are more important than ever. Alexander Clarkson of King’s College London, argued in World Politics Review that Iranian leaders might be making bold moves internationally in order to quiet some of their critics at home, or at least divert them from the trouble they are stirring up and the challenges they face – at home and abroad.

It’s not that effective.

Clarkson wrote, “those efforts have done little to regain the support of a large swathe of the Iranian population whose visceral opposition to clerical rule became visible in mass protests in 2022.” Still, “Regime insiders worried that a softening of ideological rigor might play into the hands of rival factions are unwilling to push for the loosening of economic and social controls, even though doing so is necessary to rebuild support among young people increasingly at odds with a theocratic system established in the late 1970s.”

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