The Authoritarian Resurgence: Iran’s Paradoxical Regime

April 2015
Abbas Milani
John Hopkins University Press

Just as the 1979 Islamic revolution that begat the truncated republic of Iran was notable both for its ironies and incongruities and its novelties and cruelties, Iran today is ruled by a regime of glaring paradoxes. After 35 years of Islamic theocracy, Iran has become a land of myriad contradictions: It is a cruel authoritarian state, personified by the dour, aged faces of its autocratic rulers, where there are more public hangings per capita than anywhere else in the world and where misogynist laws deny women equal rights and status. Yet behind the mirthless face of the regime pulsates a young and globally connected citizenry and a women’s movement as impressive in its reach as in its prudence and patience. So while the center is defined by authoritarian control, in the body politic, the “center cannot hold.” Only by deconstructing the nature and origin of these paradoxes can we understand the nature of the ruling authoritarian theocracy, as well as the challenges that it faces in maintaining the status quo. To assess why the Iranian regime has endured, to understand the methods that it uses to coerce and coopt its critics, and finally to gauge its long-term prospects of survival, we must place these issues in their dynamic historical context. The regime’s authoritarianism is more flexible and durable than some of its quixotic detractors hope, yet more fragile and endangered than its invested defenders suggest. The 1979 revolution was, according to a near-consensus among scholars , the most “popular” revolution in modern times—almost 11 percent of the population participated in it, compared to the approximately 7 and 9 percent of citizens who took part in the French and Russian revolutions, respectively.


Chapter 3 - Iran's Paradoxical Regime

Part of the Book: Authoritarianism Goes Global - The Challenge to Democracy