The Islamic Republic today is garnering attention primarily for its nuclear defiance. However, beneath the glare of inconclusive summits and boisterous claims of economic empowerment, a critical question remains: Just how stable is Iran's clerical regime?
For much of the Washington establishment, the opposition Green movement is a faded memory, a protest wave against electoral fraud that was suppressed by the Islamist regime to the point of exhaustion if not extinction. Such sentiments fail to engage with a more fundamental question, namely how to assess the viability of an opposition movement in a country whose politics have proven so evasive.
The Islamic Republic is not a typical authoritarian state but a distinct ideological construct. Such regimes require an explanation, an argument to justify their repression and meddlesome adventures abroad. The custodians of the theocratic state may engage in atrocities, but they are doing so to advance history's cause, to realize a certain sublime ideal. In such a state, the uniformed officer, the plainclothes policeman, the Revolutionary Guard all require an overweening ideological cover to justify their brutalities to themselves.
The subtle and subversive victory of the Green movement is to hollow out the state and demonstrate to its loyalists that they are not defending a transcendent orthodoxy but craven and cruel men addicted to power at all cost. In the words of the reformist cleric, the late Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri, in the violent crackdown following the elections in June 2009, the Islamic Republic ceased to be either Islamic or a republic.