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How stable is Iran's regime? Expert on Middle East politics weighs in during visit to Springfield

James Devine, associate professor of political science at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada
Mount Allison University
James Devine, associate professor of political science at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada

James Devine, political science professor at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada gave a talk recently at Missouri State University.

Devine, an expert on Iran, said the Iranian regime is stable for the most part, but unstable in certain areas.

Protests have been ongoing in Iran since the death of 20-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police. At least 300 people have died, according to media reports.

But will those protests lead to change?

Devine said he sees some scenarios where that could happen, but it’s difficult to make predictions about Iran.

"There have been dissenting voices inside of Iran saying that the regime has cracked down too hard on women in the past and particularly on the hijab issue, and that the policies that they had implemented before these protests began, where they had really increased the policing on women's clothing and dress in public had provoked this unnecessarily," Devine said.

"For those people — the people who are making this argument — what they would like to see is the rules relaxed a little bit, and this is something that we've seen in Iran over the years. You could go into Iran — I was there in 2001, and dress was very conservative. I was there again in 2010 and it was quite a bit different."

He said women then were wearing their hijabs pushed further back on their heads and showing more hair.

The line had been creeping further and further toward a more liberal position for awhile, according to Devine. But when the current president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected, he began taking steps to try to reverse that.

"And this is what's provoked this crisis," Devine said. "So, we could see — potentially — the regime going back to a more moderate position if things settle down, but that doesn't really change the fundamental system. It's unclear to me that women in Iran would be satisfied with this. They weren't satisfied with the status quo before. Even with a more moderate, lax enforcement of the rules, it's still somebody telling you to dress and how to act."

Devine said the Iranian regime is stable in the sense that those in power can stay in power, despite the ongoing protests.

Iran’s security forces are structured in such a way that a coup is unlikely, but not impossible, Devine said.

"If you look at the record of political scientists trying to explain changes and revolutions in the Middle East, it's a mixed bag at best," he said. "And none of them saw the Arab Spring coming. So, any sort of predictions we make always come with a lot of caveats. But it doesn't look like this will be enough in and of itself to overthrow the regime. But the regime itself comes out of it weaker, less able to implement any policies. It becomes a regime which is more and more focused on just simply maintaining power rather than actually governing."

The protests have exposed more of the divisions within the regime, he said. He predicts that will result in changes in the way the regime functions and in people’s lives in Iran.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.