An Arab Spring-like popular movement in Iran is not so far away due to growing domestic discontent triggered by the economic concerns that international sanctions have created, and which could also open Pandora's box for the repressed groups in the country, political analysts have claimed.
According to analysts there is nothing to do but “wait and see” if the Iranian public raises its voice after the embattled Syrian regime falls and the opposition declares a political and military success.
The sanctions imposed against Iran due to its nuclear program, which the West, including Israel, says is for acquiring nuclear weapons, since the beginning of this year have taken an enormous toll on its economy, which already suffers from a weaker currency, rampant inflation and high unemployment. The President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad regime is also being held accountable for the rampant corruption and bad management of the economy by its conservative rivals loyal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,, which also points to the deepening rifts within the regime.
Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader has ultimate say over Iran's foreign policy and nuclear program, and will likely not change his confrontational stance over the nuclear program, by announcing a “resistance path” that plays upon the nationalistic and religious feelings of the Iranian people to stand behind the regime against an “international plot” as defined by the regime.
On the other hand, the mullah regime systematically marginalizes reformist circles that criticize the ultra-nationalist stance of “resistance,” by infringing upon their political and democratic rights. During the consultative elections of March, the reformist camp was deterred from participating.
Arif Keskin, who is a prominent Iran analyst, estimated that the psychological basis for an uprising is readying itself among the Iranian people regarding the country's situation. “If the current political state continues like this for one more year, we could see an “Iran Spring” by the June presidential elections,” Keskin noted.
The last presidential elections in 2009 saw a large scale popular uprising after protesters claimed the elections were fraudulent. The uprising was thought to be the largest one since the 1979 Revolution, which led to the founding of the current republic.
The movement, however, has been violently suppressed by the the Ahmedinejad regime.
Some rare protests have already started in Iran, due to price hikes on food, showing the effects of international sanctions on the public so far. Beginning in July, Nishabur, a province of 270,000 in the east of the Tehran capital, has been the stage for protests after prices for chicken more than doubled. Iran's leadership is trying to make up the economic shortfall by cutting government subsidies, including the financial assistance it usually offers to newlyweds for travel to the holy places of Mecca, Medina, Najaf and Karbala, and by raising food prices.
On the other hand, the result of the Syrian crisis could likely be a very critical juncture for the Iranian regime. The fall of President Bashar al-Assad would mean a crack in Iran's outer shell, after a 40-year alliance with the Assad family. Syria has been the only way for the Iranian regime, which has been isolated in the region for years, to maintain its influence in Lebanon through the Iranian proxy of Hezbollah and cause a stalemate for Israel. The fall of the Syrian region could turn a military confrontation threat with the West and Israel into a reality.
“We will see continuing pressure on the regime as a result of Assad's being ousted from power, which I am sure will happen quite soon,” Salman Shaikh, the director of the Brookings Doha Center and fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, maintained while speaking to Sunday's Zaman.
Meanwhile, Emre Uslu, assistant professor in the political science and international relations department of İstanbul's Yeditepe University, asserted that a discourse by the international community based on a military confrontation with Iran wıll play into the hands of the mullah regime.
“There is still a strong opposition tendency within the country, and the remnants of the Green Movement are still present among the people. But the Iranian administration would successfully play upon the nationalistic identity, uniting the public if the international community plays war tam tams on Iran [after the Syrian crisis has been solved],” Uslu stated to Sunday's Zaman. However, he claimed that if the international community would make an emphasis on democratic acquisitions rather than a preemptive strike on Iran, a successful popular movement will most likely occur after the fall of the Syrian regime.
The longstanding ethnic grievances could also be the source of opposition within Iran. The regime marginalized the cultural rights of Azeri Turks whose numbers amount to 35 million in the country, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Turkmens and others. The regime has effectively integrated the Shiites among those ethnic groups, but Sunni people are most likely to claim their identity. The fact that such domestic opposition groups gain more legitimacy and recognition on international platforms could create another headache for the Iranian regime.
Keskin claims that for a popular democratic movement to succeed and lead to the demise of the autocratic regime, the support of Azeri Turks is important. “There is currently a political mobilization happening among Turks in Iran. During the green movement, Turkish-populated regions remained silent, and not because they are pro-regime, but because that the green movement is nationalistic. The integration of Tabriz, [which is a province in Iran home to largest number of Turks] to the movement is of key importance if anything is to change in Iran,” he claimed.
Azerbaijani Turks, being the largest ethnic group in Iran with a population of 35 million, have longstanding problems with the Iranian central regime, which has been growing more serious after the Shiite revolution. Having no right to press and education in their mother tongue, the Azerbaijani speaking population has taught their children their mother tongue in their houses and at some Turkish associations. Recently, Iranian officials have started a campaign against Turkish teachers, arresting them, say Azeris in Iran.
An international platform for the Azeri-Turkish population in Iraq, which seeks their democratic rights under the platform of International South Azerbaijani Turks' National Council are maintaining lobbying activities in Europe, including in Russia and the US to get more recognition and support. Cemal Mehmethanoğlu, the spokesperson of the council, claimed that there are already 10 million Azeri Turks in the region that have Turkish ethnic pride.
“One spark [just as in the cartoon crisis of 2007] would be enough for them [Azeri Turks] to give large scale support to our cause,” Mehmethanoğlu stated in remarks to Sunday's Zaman.
Azeri Turks in Iran were enraged over a cartoon insulting their Turkish ethnic identity published in a newspaper associated with the country's IRNA official news agency. Some 3 million Azeri Turks poured into the streets to protest in 2007. The protests were violently suppressed by state authorities.
Meanwhile, the Iraq-based exiled opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) could be very dangerous for a destabilized Iran, hatching plots and creating provocation in the country. The group, which has a military force of 3,500 and had support from the Saddam Hussein government against the mullah regime, is currently facing the threat of being expelled from Iraq.