The Sunday Edition

'A deep crisis of legitimacy' inside Iran, says Iranian-Canadian political scientist

For several days, it looked like Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Soleimani had the effect of quelling anti-government sentiment inside Iran. But now that Iranian authorities have admitted that their own military shot down an airliner and killed dozens of their own people, all that has changed, according to Nader Hashemi, an Iranian-Canadian political scientist and the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver.
People gather for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukrainian airliner tragedy in Tehran on Jan. 11, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press)
Listen13:44

For several days, it looked like Donald Trump's decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Soleimani had the effect of quelling anti-government sentiment among Iran's restive young people. Only weeks after anti-government protests filled the streets of Tehran, those same streets were filled again by Iranians rallying around a government under siege from a foreign power. Anger at The United States was more powerful than anger at the theocratic regime. 

But now that Iranian authorities have admitted that their own military shot down an airliner and killed dozens of their own people, all that has changed, according to Nader Hashemi, an Iranian-Canadian political scientist and the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver.

I think the best way of characterizing the mood of Iranian young people ... is that they feel caught between a rock and a hard place — between an authoritarian regime on the one hand that's deeply repressive, and then a Donald Trump on the outside that's sanctioning Iran to death.- Nader Hashemi

"The regime suffers from a deep crisis of legitimacy," Professor Hashemi told The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright, "and so this is going to add to the regime's illegitimacy because the institutional arrangements, the structure of power, prevent any open and honest accountable system that can get to the bottom of this crisis and this killing. So I think what's going to happen is it's going to increase the political temperature in Iran and make it harder for Iran's authoritarian leaders to hang on to power. 

"Ironically, Donald Trump's policy, I would argue, is actually bolstering the Islamic Republic and allowing its leaders to externalize its problems by pointing to the comprehensive crippling sanctions that have been imposed on Iran and the assassination of senior leaders like Soleimani."

Iranian students demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 in front of the Amirkabir University in the capital Tehran, on January 11, 2020. (ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Image)

Professor Hashemi noted that political turmoil and cycles of popular protest and government repression are nothing new to Iran. But while the world remains on edge as it nervously watches the escalating tensions between the U.S. and the Iranian government, he said the real pain and and anxiety are borne by the Iranian people themselves. 

"This is a deeply dark time for Iran and Iranians. We almost had a regional war break out on Tuesday night. The country is under severe economic sanctions that disproportionately affect the average citizen, not the ruling elites. This aircraft crashes with a lot of young people, many of them recently married, many of them students going to Canada and other places to start their lives. 

"So this really resonates at a deep level and it just adds to the level of deep despair, anxiety and frustration. I think the best way of characterizing the mood of Iranian young people, the middle class, and people in urban settings is that they feel caught between a rock and a hard place — between an authoritarian regime on the one hand that's deeply repressive, and then a Donald Trump on the outside that's sanctioning Iran to death. And so they're feeling a lack of hope, a lack of optimism, and then this tragedy compounds the pain and the misery."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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