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Is the Iranian regime collapsing?

Signs are emerging that government officials are in panic

Iranian women walk in a commercial district without wearing mandatory Islamic headscarves in Tehran, Iran, on Nov. 14. Associated Press/Photo by Vahid Salemi

Is the Iranian regime collapsing?

The collapse of Iran’s Islamic regime may be unfolding before our eyes. Then again, maybe not. In any event, something big is happening in Iran, and the world needs to take notice.

Two new developments suggest that the unrelenting street protests, which began on Sept. 16, have been successful in bringing the brutal regime to task in remarkable ways. First, the regime is now giving in to major demands of the protesters and shows some willingness to compromise. Second, panicked Iranian officials are attempting to flee Iran with their families, and some are seeking to secure British passports for protection. That certainly tells us that something big is happening.

The biggest news thus far is this: According to the New York Times, the Iranian government announced the abolishment of its Muslim morality police and is now considering changes to mandatory hijab laws. This is significant, as both the morality police and the hijab (a head covering for women) are at the epicenter of what initiated and drove the anti-government protests. The announcement reflects a remarkable change in the way the brutal regime is dealing with the protests.

The protests began after the brutal death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, who was arrested by Iran’s morality police in Tehran for improperly wearing the Islamic hijab. While the protests indeed began as demonstrations against police brutality, they expanded to disapprove the poor quality of life experienced by the vast majority of Iranians under the Islamic regime that has controlled Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979. In the beginning of the protests, the regime was aggressive, beating women and arresting many and placing them in jail, in hope of stopping the protests in their early stages. However, the political events escalated even more and the demands intensified, calling for the dethroning of the Ayatollah, the highest Shiite Muslim authority, as protestors chanted, “Death to the dictator.”

Now, under severe pressures, the regime seems willing to yield—or at least to send that message.

The abolishment of the morality police would be the first major concession to the protesters. The regime is floundering and the decision would mean a huge defeat for the repressive Islamic government and a clear sign of the success of the Iranian people, who fearlessly had taken to the streets. The defeat is even more significant if we consider the extremely prestigious status of this branch of the police. The morality police have been the government’s intimidating whip to Iranians. It served initially as the Islamic Revolution Committees and has been an essential part of what made the regime “Islamic” in its application of the laws. Many members of these vice patrols were untouchable and their authority was unquestioned, and through fear they controlled the lives of Iranians, especially women.

Have the unrelentingly brave protesters brought down the Muslim morality police?

While this would be absolutely remarkable, what about the Islamic hijab rules? Can they be abolished? This is a more difficult issue.

As for the international community, it is now a crucially important time to show support to the brave Iranian protesters.

Two days before the announcement of the abolishment of the morality police, Iran’s attorney general reportedly said the parliament and judiciary were reviewing the Islamic mandatory hijab laws. This is a step forward, but I am skeptical. Any concession regarding the hijab and its Islamic rules will be equal to a severe collapse of the clerics’ authority. In a sense, the morality police is a matter of government—and can be reinstated later—unlike the hijab which is significantly Islamic and convictional. If the Iranian authorities abolish—or even relax—the hijab rules, the inevitable conclusion will be that the protests succeeded and the people of Iran had essentially humbled the regime.

The two developments—abolishing the morality police and reviewing the hijab laws—plus the reports of Iranian officials chartering several flights a day to flee Iran, mean that the ruthless regime appears to be panicking.

If true, this is a sign of imminent collapse of a dictatorship.

Based on lessons we learned from previous revolutions (e.g., Egypt and Tunisia in 2011), it is absolutely important that the Iranian people do not leave the streets before the complete collapse of the regime. Otherwise, the few concessions of the government can be reversed once dictators regain power and control when people return to their homes.

As for the international community, it is now a crucially important time to show support to the brave Iranian protesters. They have been in the streets—in harsh cold months—demanding the toppling of an unjust and brutal dictatorship that seized power in 1979 and, since then, has controlled the lives of Iranians through fear and intimidation. In particular, the United States should not entertain any support of the regime or renewals of nuclear talks, but rather must enforce economic sanctions against the regime, while continuing to offer support for the Iranian people.

If Iran’s Islamic regime falls apart, let’s remember: It all started with the unjust murder of an innocent young woman, Mahsa Amini. History may remember her as the individual who helped bring regime change to Iran.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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