Is the Iranian regime cracking up?

ATTA KENARE/AFP Several accelerating trends should give heart to those eager to see the end of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s rule in Tehran. First, as my Passport colleagues have duly noted, Iran is acting more erratic than usual toward the United States and the West in general. Iran’s foreign minister famously blew off Secretary Rice last week ...

602023_070510_ahmadinejad_05.jpg
602023_070510_ahmadinejad_05.jpg

ATTA KENARE/AFP

Several accelerating trends should give heart to those eager to see the end of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's rule in Tehran. First, as my Passport colleagues have duly noted, Iran is acting more erratic than usual toward the United States and the West in general. Iran's foreign minister famously blew off Secretary Rice last week with comments about ice cream and a violinist, and on Tuesday, authorities detained a prominent U.S. intellectual who had been under house arrest in Tehran for months.

Most importantly, though, Iran's economy has continued to tank. Iran seems to be alone among oil-exporting countries in being completely unable to wring domestic growth out of the high oil prices of recent years. The economy has expanded by less than three percent under the current regime, while inflation gallops away at 18 percent and nearly a third of the labor force remains jobless. Notably, the malaise is more a consequence of bad domestic policy than it is international sanctions. Longtime Iran observer Amir Taheri writes in the Wall Street Journal that serious unrest is brewing:

ATTA KENARE/AFP

Several accelerating trends should give heart to those eager to see the end of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s rule in Tehran. First, as my Passport colleagues have duly noted, Iran is acting more erratic than usual toward the United States and the West in general. Iran’s foreign minister famously blew off Secretary Rice last week with comments about ice cream and a violinist, and on Tuesday, authorities detained a prominent U.S. intellectual who had been under house arrest in Tehran for months.

Most importantly, though, Iran’s economy has continued to tank. Iran seems to be alone among oil-exporting countries in being completely unable to wring domestic growth out of the high oil prices of recent years. The economy has expanded by less than three percent under the current regime, while inflation gallops away at 18 percent and nearly a third of the labor force remains jobless. Notably, the malaise is more a consequence of bad domestic policy than it is international sanctions. Longtime Iran observer Amir Taheri writes in the Wall Street Journal that serious unrest is brewing:

One result of the president’s weird policy is the series of strikes that have continued in Tehran and at least 20 other major cities since last autumn. Last year, one major strike by transport workers in Tehran brought the city of 15 million to a standstill for several days. Right now tens of thousands of workers in industries as diverse as gas refining, paper and newsprint, automobile, and copper mining are on strike.

Politically, serious opposition is coalescing around the “moderate conservative” mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. As Passport noted several months ago, dissatisfaction with Ahmedinejad’s nuclear brinkmanship has been producing a backlash on the religious right, centered around former president Rafsanjani. He’s too old to run again, and anyway closely tied to hardliners in the government. But Qalibaf is relatively young and popular. Even better, he ticks off the hardliners, so much so that they’re working hard in what’s likely to be a futile effort to prevent his re-selection as mayor.

What does it all mean? Iran’s truculence is probably an attempt by the regime to distract attention, both at home and abroad, from its increasingly precarious position. More of the same is probably on the way. Don’t be surprised if Iran starts making even more noise about its nukes to try to gin up nationalist support at home. Iranian-made weapons will probably also show up in increasing numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the strategy seems to be generating more resistance than it’s deflecting, and will probably only hasten the day when someone steps in and pries the reins out of Ahmedinejad’s hands.

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