The past year has been challenging for Iran, opening with popular protests that questioned regime legitimacy. As the year unfolded, the country came under intense pressure from beyond its borders and experienced a collapse of the national currency that took an economic toll in the form of renewed inflation.
Iran in 2019 will continue to face domestic, economic, and external tensions. On the bright side, these can be expected to lead to political and economic reforms and potentially to a re-orientated foreign policy.
The domestic political structure is composed of power networks that are continuously engaged in bargaining. This compels them to either unite or compete on diverse issues. The current level of anti-Iranian posturing by the Donald Trump administration – and the more subtle US goal of regime change – has generated some alignment among the networks, primarily to secure the survival of the regime in light of sanctions and antagonism.
President Hassan Rohani has moved closer to the conservative camp and there are strong signs that the forces around him are coalescing to control the executive branch beyond the president’s second term.
Rohani believes that the regime as a whole needs to introduce structural and governance reforms to regain legitimacy, but the more conservative elements around Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wish to push back because they believe such reforms are designed to weaken the position of supreme leader and affiliated institutions.
Significant political divisions over government efficiency, the business climate, economic mismanagement and corruption can therefore be expected throughout Iran in 2019.
One won’t see much tension on the surface, however, as all factions recognise the need for cohesiveness. Instead, squabbles will be held in abeyance until the approach of the next Majles (parliamentary) election, in February 2020, and then during the campaign for the 2021 presidential election.
Looking beyond the political power structure, protest campaigns against poor socio-economic conditions will continue in Iran in 2019, with numerous strike actions and targeted demonstrations. Though it is unlikely that these will translate into largescale social movements, they will keep social tensions simmering.