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Amir Fakhravar and Kenneth Katzman discuss “Is Iran on the brink of another revolution?”

Amir takes the floorOn September 23, IWP’s Center for Culture and Security hosted a panel discussion addressing the question, “Is Iran on the brink of another revolution?” Kenneth Katzman, Specialist in Middle East Affairs at the Congressional Research Service, and Amir Fakhravar, Research Fellow of the Institute’s Center for Culture and Security, participated in the panel.

Dr. John Lenczowski opened the session by explaining the mission of the new Center for Culture and Security: to underscore the cultural dimension of national security and effective global understanding. The Center’s founding director, Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon introduced the panelists after reminding the audience that the term “revolution,” first described the motion of the planets and divine intervention in human affairs. The modern political concept, epitomized in the 18th century with the French Revolution, meaning “a great change in human affairs,” still retained the idea of a return to something pure and ideal.

Mr. Fakhravar agreed, and declared that the Green Movement in Iran is unquestionably revolutionary and spells the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic. He shared a video that vividly illustrates the appeal of this Movement: He asserted that while members of the movement may disagree on some things, that there is unanimous disgust with the current totalitarian Islamist regime and great enthusiasm for the United States.

Mr. Fakhravar outlined four factors that can lead to a revolution-all of which, he said, exist today in Iran. They include: a deep dissatisfaction with the current situation accompanied by no widespread anger and no apparent prospects for reform; the appearance of new ideas (for example, green secularism against the dominant religious ideology); the breaking of barriers such as public demonstrations in the face of Iranian police; and the existence of genuine leadership and symbols.

Mr. Fakhravar concluded his remarks by noting that revolution in Iran is certainly a serious possibility, and that foreign observers should not be surprised if revolution does occur. Currently, he said, the U.S. administration is being provided incorrect information about the situation in Iran, and that this is a problem for our administration as it works to form policy towards Iran.

Unfortunately, Mr. Fakhravar’s work and scholarship in the U.S. come at a very steep personal price (in addition to the five years he spent in the infamous Evin prison in solitary confinement, and where he was severely tortured). Only last week, his mother, brother, and sisters were removed from an aircraft in Iran, taken to a revolutionary court, and prevented from leaving the country for no other reason except their relationship to Mr. Fakhravar.

Mr. Katzman, speaking in a personal, not official, capacity, provided a dispassionate analysis based exclusively on public information, mainly gathered through postings by Iranians on Facebook and other social media sources. He concurred that there are factors at work in Iran that could certainly lead one to believe that there could be dramatic changes in Iran’s governmental structure; there is clearly a deep movement and hunger for something new. However, Mr. Katzman admitted, due to a police crackdown this year and other factors, evidence of a revolutionary movement is more difficult to see. But the lack of evidence may just be an indication that the movement has largely gone underground and may be politically more mature, as evidenced by labor union outreach to the poor among both urban and rural populations.

He also observed that many Iranians do not blame the U.S. for its sweeping sanctions against Iran; instead, they blame their regime. They are currently so alienated against their regime that it would take something dramatic to get them to support their current government. Yet he was careful to emphasize that despite deep and powerful schisms in Iranian society, it is unclear whether they will result in imminent revolution.

Please click here to download Mr. Fakhravar’s speech and accompanying power point presentation.* 

*The Institute of World Politics supports the search for truth – a search that lies at the heart of the academic enterprise – and rejects limits on the substance of expression, including the expression of unpopular facts or uncommon viewpoints.  The views of faculty members, fellows, and students do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.

Kenneth Katzman