Sanctions and Iran

There are two scenarios which may develop. The first is a similar pattern to that which developed in Iraq in which the regime intensified its security operations, while rewarding its supporters with economic subsidies and preference.
The second is the pattern belonging to the Arab Spring countries in which long-term underemployment (as seen in Iran today) was brought into conjunction with an economic crisis met by a regime without a sufficiently strong narrative to deflect or absorb popular discontent. This discontent found focus in liberal, nationalist and Islamist parties and factions.
Whilst there is an opposition movement in Iran, the strength of this movement remains unclear given the 2009 suppression of the Green Movement. It is possible that a further economic crisis provoked by lack of oil revenues and consequent relaxation of domestic subsidies could bring out mass protests once more. However, it must be borne in mind that this is not an axiomatic process – economic crisis – large protests = government fall. Instead, we must beware of the danger of a Syrian episode with the regime successfully resorting to mass murder and an intense counter-protest operation.
Additionally, there are other elements to be considered. The Iranian nuclear weapons programme may well render the question of sanctions null and void if the effect of a successful programme changes the attitudes of the Arab states. Such a change could result in the formation of an Iranian political hegemony within the Gulf region. Under such a scenario, access to Arab oil under favourable terms is not impossible – indeed, consider that Saudi Arabia offered to fund (and supply with oil) President Mubarak of Egypt in order to secure the continued existence of a friendly regime.
So under this scenario, Iran would not only break out of political and economic isolation, it would break out of the increasingly fragile great-power diplomatic ring placed around it. A reliable and strong Iran dominating the region would probably receive the support of Russia and possibly that of China. We may end the 2010s by seeing a decisive defeat of the US-EU group on the UNSC and the emergence of a Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance.
If this does not occur, then we return to the original two scenarios as possibilities. Either intensified repression and economic decrepitude or a breakdown in civil and state power. As earlier, the likelihood depends upon the will of the regime to commit to the necessary force to suppress dissent or the strength of the opposition movement or movements.

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