In many ways, the Iranian people believed for many years that no matter what, the existing political institutions are the most appropriate for this society. But things have changed, dramatically: Iran is under sanctions for offenses that are partly of foreign interest, like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and recently Russia. Over the last few years, the Iranian regime is more invested in Africa than in Iranian provinces like Khuzestan and Sistan & Baluchistan. The IRGC takes over most of the profitable markets, including the oil market. There is shortage of water, electricity and mostly a shortage in justice. Whoever speaks out is silenced, brutally. The killing of Mahsa Amini was a landmark, but even earlier Iranians all over the country understood and physically felt that their regime is not acting in their interest, even brutally against it.

The apparatus of the supreme leader has “used up” several presidents and other officials to blame them for the degradation, but even before Raisi it was crystal clear that this regime has lost its legitimacy.
According to John Locke, political legitimacy derives from popular explicit and implicit consent of the governed. The American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset said that legitimacy also “involves the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate and proper ones for the society”. This is mostly accurate even for a totalitarian clerical Islamic revolutionary Republic as Iran is. The Iranian state is based on the deep belief that the supreme leader knows what’s best, not only for the Iranian people, but for all Shiites, and lately even for larger parts of Sunna, as Iran exports its revolutionary system to neighboring countries, the Persian Gulf and Near-Eastern states.

Khamenei ordered several polls. He was displeased, to say the least, with all of them. No poll showed more than 40% endorsing the regime. The leader received explanations and reasons, but no real solutions. In the end

he ordered a poll to find out what president to prefer. This was kept highly confidential, as it is a show of weakness. Raisi got a little more than Zarif and other so called “reformists”, but again the participation in the poll was low. The results of the election were again discussed in Khamenei’s executive chamber and the leader was appalled: only 34,6% participation in the election. Large parts of the provinces just didn’t care enough to endorse the leader’s choice. This is a clear-cut loss of legitimacy to the whole apparatus, a vote against the leader not only on a political level, but also on a personal level.

Talk about a successor are proliferating, getting more and more specific. The pressure from the IRGC is rising and Khamenei is the one to react first. For many years Khamenei is riding the IRGC tiger, but now he understands that he might fall off and become the meal. We have only little information of the closed council that Khamenei summoned, but we do know that he decided to cut down some of IRGC influence, and that for two reasons: First, he wants IRGC to understand that he is still the one calling the shots. Second, he wants to cut down on IRGC economic standing and influence.

Officially Khamenei wishes to show that he provides affirmative action concerning the preferred status the IRGC when in fact he wants to seriously downsize this organization and at least make it look like a re-allocation of resources. This has been going on for several weeks now, without there being any indication for the real reason. The idea is that the government needs more resources and that older IRGC active members will have to be relieved of duty. Khamenei promised bonuses for IRGC officers who will discharge larger numbers of their unit, which naturally leads to “broadening” the specifications of the prospected members to leave the IRGC. For now, the IRGC has already been decimated by 5%, and by the end of the year Khamenei hopes to reach twice as much, before the lower ranks understand what’s happening and the leading officers understand that there are next in line.

Just to make sure that his plan will achieve the needed change, Khamenei summoned some of his most loyal following within the ranks of the IRGC and let them in on his scheme. Furthermore, he asked them to induce turmoil, instability with changing agenda and contradicting orders, so that the mass firing of staff will have some kind of logical background.

Although this plan looks anemic, not well designed and even dangerous for the spiritual leader, it seems that he knows his flock better and more intimately than western analysts could have thought. Within days, the leading officers put on the list of candidates for early retirement promising and energetic members, the ones who just recently were viewed for promotion. In retrospect – the reason is obvious: should the IRGC really be decimated, the higher-ranking officers want to make sure that they will make the cut. That is why they keep it secret, that is why many are forced to leave or sent to distant outposts in Africa and that is why no-one puts an end to it. “Doing the devil’s job on Satan himself” is the expression used in the leader’s chamber.

We believe that these measures will help the leader to regain some of his strength, help him make sure that he will appoint his successor and even limit some of the IRGC access to the economy. On the other hand, we cannot unfold the mystery of his plan to use this evil plan to regain legitimacy within the Iranian people.