The Iranian Revolution Then and Now:  Indicators of Regime Instability.  By Dariush Zahedi.  (Boulder, CO:  Westview Press, 2000.  Pp. 224.  $60.00.).  Published in The Historian. Vol. 65, No. 3, 2003.

 

This study provides an assessment of the current and past political regimes in Iran, especially of various groups and conditions working against each regime. Iran's tumultuous political life in the past century, coupled with the unfulfilled aspirations of most supporters of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, sets the stage for the author's research question: "Is Iran ripe for another revolution?"

What leads Dariush Zahedi to such a question is the assumption that when certain sociological, political, and economic factors are present, a revolution becomes inevitable. How can a revolutionary regime that has not yet consummated its energy be replaced by another revolution? Zahedi believes that many of the sociological factors that worked against the Shah in 1979 are also at work against the present Islamic Republic'. Today, the Iranians are worse off than they were twenty-three years ago. The Iranian economy is in shambles, and the business class is not happy with the economic conditions in the country. Most groups supporting the revolution are alienated from the Islamic Republic, including a large portion c: the clerical stratum. A large segment of the Iranian intelligentsia has left the country, and the middle class continues t~ seek life opportunities outside the country. Iranian women and youth are disgusted with the restrictions imposed on their life. The Iranian regime has no major international ally and is in conflict with the major superpower, the United States. In many respects, the Islamic Republic today has more dissatisfied citizens, larger opposition, fewer resources, and a far weaker economy than what the Shah had towards the end of his rule. If this is the case, then why has there not been a revolution?

In chapter two, the author explores various theories and types of revolutions. Finding these theories inadequate for explaining either the revolution of 1979 or the potential for a revolution against the Islamic Republic, Zahedi develops his own "nontautological framework that is cognizant of both the variety and variability of revolutions" (32). This framework takes into account "the changing patterns of intersocial and intrasocial group support for and discontentment with the regime, the nature of the regime as well as the forces opposing it, the qualities of regime and antiregime leadership, and the net balance of coercive force for the regime" (37) .To apply this proposed framework to the Iranian case, Zahedi uses a comparative methodology termed by John Stuart Mill as "the method of difference."

In the subsequent two chapters, Zahedi discusses the social underpinnings of the Pahlavi monarchy and the Islamic Republic's theocratic system. He examines socioeconomic status, political ideology, and social outlook of the intelligentsia, the clerics, the middle class, the business community, and the dispossessed.  He concludes that the monarchy had alienated all these groups, yet the Islamic Republic still has the support of portions of the traditional business community, the dispossessed, and the clergy.

            In chapter five, Zahedi examines the oppositional forces against both the monarchy prior to the revolution and the Islamic Republic now. He concludes that both regimes have experienced large, but scattered, opposition. What made the difference in 1979 was the presence, ideology, and political strategies used by Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini was a shrewd and charismatic politician who mobilized the masses by employing their religious beliefs. He unified various oppositional groups and maintained a multiclass alliance against the Shah without alienating any group, even if opposed to his ideology and religion. He remained focused on his demands by avoiding various issues and circumstances that could have weakened his strategy. In Zahedi's words, "without the cohering presence of Khomeini and the indispensable coordination mechanism provided by the mosques, Iran's hodgepodge and contradictory opposition could have been divided through co-optation, succumbed to repression, or disintegrated due to personal and ideological cleavages and rivalries" (134). Today, the opposition to the Islamic Republic is fragmented, disorganized, and without a unifying ideology or leader.

In chapter six, Zahedi compares the nature and leadership qualities of the Islamic regime and its predecessor. Aside from the structural differences between the politics of the two regimes (i.e., the Shah's centralized and personal politics versus the Islamic Republic's decentralized and depersonalized politics) , there are leadership qualities that differentiate the two and have contributed to the demise of the Pahlavi regime and the continuation of the Islamic Republic. The Shah, as opposed to his father and the majority of leaders in the Islamic Republic, was indecisive and inconsistent with his opponents. In serious confrontations with the opposition, under pressure by the external powers, and in consideration of his image as a modern leader in the international community, he often backed down from his position and gave in to the demands and pressures placed upon him.

            In the final chapter, knowing that it is a mistake to predict the unpredictable future of the Islamic Republic, Zahedi argues that although the prospects for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic are currently low, the regime suffers from factional divisions in the leadership that, if continued, could precipitate its collapse. Given the decentralized and overinstitutionalized structure of power in the Islamic Republic and a large, but ineffective, opposition, an alternative to the Islamic Republic is not in sight. The changes that have taken place since 1996, when Mohammad Khatami was elected as the president, have increased the chances of transforming the Islamic Republic from within. These changes might be effective in prolonging the life of the Islamic Republic as long as the leaders of various factions are capable of moderating their differences and uniting at critical times when the regime's survival is threatened. Thus far, the Ayatollahs have done so.

            Though this book starts with a theoretical discussion of revolutions and revolutionary theories, it does not have many theoretical lessons to offer beyond the Iranian case. The author's contribution lies in the excellent summary of the state of affairs in the Iranian society and the description of forces shaping Iranian politics inside and outside of the country.  In this regard, it is more useful as an executive summary for policy analysts than a theoretical guide for further research on Iranian society and politics.  Its major shortcoming is its sole reliance on materials published in English outside of Iran, with the exception of the Iran Times, a bilingual weekly newspaper published in Washington, D.C.  This difficulty becomes more acute when sources for most direct quotations are drawn from secondary works when their original texts are readily available in Persian.

 

Ohio Wesleyan Univeristy                                                                               Ali Akbar Mahdi