Forty-five years on from the Islamic Revolution and the Iranian regime is at a significant transformative turning point – one that has already had dangerous implications at home and abroad.
Exactly five years ago today, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the 84-year-old supreme leader – announced a new manifesto outlining his vision for the next 40-years: “the Second Phase of the Islamic Revolution.”
This manifesto is, according to Khamenei’s power hunger son Mojtaba, the single most important document his father has ever produced – and yet Western policymakers have barely heard of it.
Second Phase of the Islamic Revolution: The ideology transforming Iran’s leadership for the worse
At the heart of the “Second Phase” project is the intent to give birth to a new form of political and bureaucratic leadership in the Islamic Republic: the so-called “young and hezbollahi” (ideologically hardline) class.
For Khamenei and his circle, the regime’s failings are not because of corruption or mismanagement, but due to the lack of ideological commitment held by the existing technocratic class.
While this experienced cohort – familiar faces to the West such as the Western-educated former foreign minister Javad Zarif or Ali Akbar Salehi, former head of Iran’s atomic agency – was certainly devoted to the regime, in their running of the state, they relied on their technical expertise rather than ideological commitment.
This is exactly what the “Second Phase” project seeks to reverse. Of course, the aging ayatollah has ulterior motives too. Through facilitating the rise of young, ideological absolutists, Khamenei would finally be able to complete his personalization of power – and, in doing so, ensuring his ideology outlives him.
Ideologically purging the Iranian regime
To implement this vision, since 2019, Khamenei has “purified” the regime – a cleansing process that has now swooped all three branches of government.
The election of hardline Islamist cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June 2021 was precisely engineered to advance the “Second Phase.” In fact, Raisi made this clear in his first presidential speech, announcing: “the actions of this government will be directed by the Second Phase.” Since then, not only has he empowered the IRGC across his administration in line with the emphasis on ideological commitment over experience and expertise, but the new president has facilitated the rise of a new cohort of indoctrinated technocrats – known as the “Imam Sadeghis” – across Iran’s bureaucracy.
Khamenei’s “purification” project would finally be completed in June last year when he appointed the infamously zealous IRGC commander Ali Akbar Ahmadian – a figure with no political or diplomatic experience – as secretary of the most important foreign and security policymaking body, the Supreme National Security Council.
Today, exactly five years on from Khamenei’s manifesto, the rise of the new “young and hezbollahi” class has produced what can only be described the “dumbification” of the revolution. By replacing the experts with indoctrinated and inexperienced elites, Iran’s regime has removed all traces of meritocracy and instead fully shifted to promoting ideologically committed people without qualifications for the running of the state and its bureaucracy.
The rise of a young, less capable and ideologically zealous class has already undermined the regime’s ability to respond to major social, economic, environmental, and political challenges.
Take the Environmental Ministry for example. This new cohort’s handling of the Asiatic cheetah, an endangered species that gave birth to three cubs in captivity in Iran, exemplifies the lethal consequences of the state’s “dumbification.” The new environmental chiefs first claimed all three cubs were females, but later declared they were male. However, as all cubs were touched by hand, the mother cheetah refused to accept its cubs, and as a result, all of them died. This tragic outcome because of inexperienced and incapable individuals is by no means the exception.
The undermining of meritocracy and personalization of power has further exacerbated state mismanagement and corruption in Iran, resulting the deterioration of Iran’s already ailing economy. The promotion of likeminded ideological zealots by Khamenei has simultaneously increased domestic suppression, with this cohort doubling-down on “morality” policing and imposing extensive internet control. In the past 12 months, all of the structural factors that resulted in nationwide protests in 2022 following the murder of Mahsa Amini have only got worse. In other words, unrest in Iran is once again on the horizon.
How Iran’s “dumbification” will change Tehran’s relations with the West
But it’s the international ramifications caused by the “dumbification” of the regime that stand out as most alarming. Gone are the days of Zarif’s propaganda charm offensive and so-called “political genius” wooing the international stage with his well-spoken English and polished diplomatic skills. This was best captured when the new Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a member of the IRGC, struggled to read his own notes in English at a recent UN Security Council meeting. But the implications of the state’s “dumbification” extends beyond slip ups in narrative.
The lack of experience and technocratic mindset of this new young and hezbollahi class has incapacitated the regime’s ability to read and appropriately respond to the rules of international politics. This has already come through in this new cohort’s actions on the world stage.
A new form recklessness with increased emphasis on ideological escalation can be seen in the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy since Khamenei facilitated the rise of this new political and managerial class. This has taken shape at both the global level, such as the reckless decision to support Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – something Western policymakers still struggle to comprehend – to the regional actions, including the IRGC’s role in openly assisting Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
Of course, this new recklessness combined with inexperience comes hand-in-hand with strategic errors. From unprovoked ballistic missile strikes on Pakistan to killing three US soldiers and getting caught red-handed in seeking to conduct 007-esque terrorist plots in the UK.
While West has been familiar with the regime in Iran for more than four decades, the “dumbification” of the revolution 45-years-on will make Tehran a lot harder to understand and predict. Western governments have typically treated the Islamic Republic through the prism of a conventional rational-state-actor despite its ideological characteristics. This lens has shaped the West’s approach towards Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, with the view that its leaders would not be “irrational” enough to go for weaponization. But the new young and hezbollahi political and managerial class have proved far from “rational” in their behavior.
The recklessness, high risk appetite, and strategic errors already demonstrated by this new cohort gives worrying indication of what lies ahead. With all attention on the Israel-Hamas war and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the West may not want to implement a major shift in stance when it comes to its Iran, but the “dumbification” of the regime may give it no choice.
Source » jpost