Last May an article in this newspaper asked, “Is Iran a democracy or a dictatorship?” After more than a week of protests in as many as 80 Iranian cities, it’s safe to say we have the answer. Again.
So much was apparent from the speed with which the demonstrations, initially about the rising price of eggs, morphed into calls for “death to the dictator,” complete with the burning of images of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. So much was apparent, too, from the force with which the regime cracked down on what it branded “sedition.” Real democracies don’t live in fear of their own people.
It’s too soon to say whether the protests have been stamped out, at least for now. But it’s not too soon to start rethinking the way we think about Iran.
For the most part, Western attention focuses on what Iran has — centrifuges, ballistic missiles, enriched uranium — as well as what it does — fund Hezbollah, assist Bashar al-Assad, arm the Houthis, or imprison the occasional British or American citizen. Administrations of both parties have spent most of their Iran energies trying to cajole or coerce Tehran to relinquish and desist, without much success.