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An Expert on Iran Is Interviewed About the Upcoming Elections

June 10, 2009

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic Monthly interviews Patrick Clawson, the deputy director for research of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about the just completed elections in Lebanon and the upcoming elections in Iran:

JG: There are clearly large numbers of people in Iran, the urban elites and the young most particularly, who seem unhappy with their government’s priorities. Do you think we could be on the cusp of something new and different, and, from the Western perspective, better?

PC: The majority of Iranians are profoundly unhappy with the government of the Islamic Republic, but that does not necessarily mean that change is imminent. What keeps the regime in power is its support from a dedicated minority of true believers, which is at least ten percent if not twenty percent of the population. The regime can count on its fanatical backers to use force – deadly force, if need be – to stop protests and keep the public in check. Those unhappy with the current system have overwhelmingly dropped out of politics, convinced that real change is not possible.

But Iran’s Supreme Leader is worried about the vulnerability of the regime. The main focus of his public speeches is about the danger of “soft overthrow” from “Western cultural invasion.” Khamenei warns that the West is plotting a “velvet revolution” like that which overthrew the Czechoslovak communist government in a mere one week’s time. He is so terrified that the Islamic Republic could be quickly swept away that he has the security forces lock up journalists (like NPR reporter Roxanne Saberi), civil society activists promoting people-to-people exchanges (like the Wilson Center’s Haleh Esfandiari), and physicians active in scientific exchange. Presumably Khamenei knows something about his own country, and he worries that the regime is vulnerable. Let us hope he is correct.

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