The endless maneuvering between Iran’s various factions is always fascinating. This article is doubly interesting though, because it highlights the complexities of institutionalizing charismatic leadership. Not to over simplify the creation of the Islamic Republic, but one of the main reasons it was able to survive and beat back its opponents was the political aura that surrounded its leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. One of the main challenges the regime has faced has been to transition from political authority based on this charisma to authority based on the institutions of the state and the current elite. Although there has been a lot of progress, the regime still relies on the connection to Khomeini and the revolution for much of its legitimacy. Iranian political conservatives in particular try to associate themselves with the late Imam, and the current leader, Ali Khamenie is often pictured next to his predecessor. Therefore, not only is it ironic that Khomeini’s grandson seems to represent a more “moderate” trend in Iranian politics, it represents a clash between the old charisma and the new institutionalized authority of the state.
“…the outlook for the embattled Syrian leader undoubtedly looks grimmer now than at any time over the past two years.
Some of his adversaries and critics believe he is already gasping on the ropes and that there could be a sudden dramatic collapse at almost any moment.”
Before we write the Assad regime off a few things to keep in mind:
1. The Syrian civil war has gone back and forth since it began. At the end of 2012 it looked like only a matter of time before the Assad regime was toppled. By the end of 2013, the Syrian opposition was divided and bolstered by the Shi’a militias organized by Iran, the Assad regime was on the offensive. Now, a little over a year later, the non-ISIS Syrian opposition seems to have regrouped and the Assad regime is looking shaky again. This is not the first time someone said it was the beginning of the end only to find out it was just another turn in the road.
2. The opposition is fairly cohesive now, because they are united by the pressure that was being put on them by ISIS, the Assad regime and its supporting Shi’a militias. It’s one thing to cooperate when your back is up against the wall, it is another once you start to win and control territory. We will see if the various opposition groups start to squabble again once they have something to fight over and their is less pressure on them.
3. The opposition has also been more cohesive because their supporters -Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar- are also cooperating. We will see how long that lasts. It will be particularly interesting to see how the Saudis react if groups they do not like start to dominate in Syria. And, it will be interesting to see how much control the three states have over their proxies on the ground if local disputes emerge between them.
4. It is far from clear that the non-ISIS opposition can actually “win”. It is one thing to carve out a chunk of territory and deny control to the Assad regime, it is another to depose the regime and/or take control of the country.