Severe economic difficulties predating but exacerbated by a new round of Trump administration sanctions are causing waves of protests against Iran’s mullah regime that have rocked more than 100 cities across the country.
Complaints include rapidly falling currency exchange rates, double-digit unemployment, rampant corruption among religious clerics, air pollution, and water and electricity shortages.
Many demonstrators have openly called for regime change. A video shared this month on social media shows soccer fans leaving Tehran’s Azadi Stadium after a match chanting "Death to the dictator," referring to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Crowds also called for the return of Prince Reza Pahlavi, and also mentioned his grandfather by shouting "Reza Shah, God bless your soul."
How likely is it that an Iran regime overthrow might really occur? What are the chances for open referendun . . . and who would that most likely new leader be?
An April online survey of more than 19 thousand Iranian citizens from all 31 provinces sought answers to such questions. One tabulation revealed that only 2.2 percent said Yes, and at least 69.8 percent would vote No to the Islamic Republic if a free referendum were to be held today.
The remaining 28 percent were undecided.
The results also showed that Prince Reza Pahlavi enjoys by far the highest popularity among future leadership candidates. He scored 48 percent amongst the total of all 17 figures who are publicly renowned for political or civil rights activities.
The next highest individual received 8.1 percent of the votes. Among the hardliners who said they voted for Ebrahim Raisi in 2017, Reza Pahlavi would get 37.9 percent of their total support in a free election.
The political attitude survey was conducted by an organization called GAMMAN (the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in IRAN) under the authorship of Ammar Maleki, an assistant professor of comparative politics at Tilburg University, The Netherlands. The methodology used SurveyMonkey.com, a secure and reliable online survey platform applying "Virtual Snowball Sampling" on social networks which included Telegram, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
The study was conducted before the government regime imposed nationwide filtering of Telegram which has about 40 million Iranian subscribers. More than 41 million Iranians reportedly have mobile Internet access, and nearly 57 million have Internet access through various means.
The stated main goal of the survey was to identify previously unaccounted-for political attitudes of "non-conservatives" (non-fundamentalists) who constitute more than 70 percent of the population. In doing so, it attempted to systematically measure and capture opinions that Iranian citizens cannot freely express in public.
All participants were kept completely anonymous.
Regarding which political orientation they most agreed with, 37.8 percent said they would want the regime to be toppled ("overthrowers"), while 30.6 percent ("transformists") wanting a free referendum) stated that they would seek radical changes. Only 3.6 percent ("reformists") indicated a preference for preserving the current Islamic Republic regime.
The study concluded that 68 percent of those who chose Reza Pahlavi as their first leadership choice considered themselves to be Overthrowers, while 31 percent were Transformists. Of those who voted for Rouhani in 2017, 43 percent considered themselves to be overthrowers, and only 7 percent saw themselves as reformists.
On a question of which political system would be most appropriate for Iran, 20.1 percent favored a constitutional monarchy, while 16.3 percent chose a Social-Democratic party model. No political party or ideology held absolute majority support.
Although Prince Reza Pahlavi is the most popular candidate, this support does not necessarily translate into advocacy for a monarchy.
Ultimately, it is not a question of if — but rather of when — the regime will fall. Faced with escalating economic pressure and international isolation, the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot build a stable and prosperous future for its citizens premised upon ideological pillars of death to America and Israel. On the other hand, if they change course, they will lose creditability among all of their allied proxies.
Simultaneously, the embattled Iranian mullah regime now finds itself ever more entrapped between other Mideast countries that fear them and their internal population which despises them. Fully recognizing this, the Trump administration’s strategy against this largest global exporter of terror is exactly correct.
All nations that empower and enrich corrupt mullahs through trade and military support must be made to suffer severe economic consequences. The Iranian people must finally be given reasons to know with certainty that America finally stands with them to determine their own future.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles.