Factional tensions, popular anxieties drive Iran towards the edge

Published in GSN, 22 February 2018

The war of words between the conservative principalists that surround Rahbar (Supreme Leader) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani’s more pragmatic allies shows no sign of dying down, with the issues of public referendums and the wearing of the hijab among the latest bones of contention.

At the same time, there is still clear potential for public demonstrations to destabilise the political scene. A substantial Gonabadi Dervish protest turned violent on 19 February, outside a police station in northern Tehran, where a member of the Sufi group was being held. More than 300 people were subsequently arrested and six people lost their lives, including three policemen, two Basij militiamen and one protestor. Coming so soon after a widespread and diverse series of demonstrations during December and January – including protests against corruption and the enforced wearing of the hijab (GSN 1,051/1) – the impression is building that the regime is struggling to balance its own needs with those of its people.

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