Why Protests won’t Change Iran’s Foreign Policy

Putting aside the disputed extent of foreign policy-related slogans during the protests, there are other reasons to suggest that they won’t bring about a major change in Iran’s regional policy or even foreign policy more broadly. This matter can be analyzed through assessing both the domestic and international contexts.

At the domestic level, it should first be noted that as the protests lacked clear goals and an agenda, let alone a specific ideational framework, even liberal-minded or Reformist figures usually critical of the Islamic Republic’s conduct abroad refused to show support for the more radical slogans targeting Iran’s foreign policy or even the protests in general. Ironically, one of the main reasons behind this restraint appears to have been derived from the drawing of comparisons between what was transpiring in Iran vis-a-vis similar experiences in the region.

Indeed, as the protests started to become more and more violent, a growing concern emerged that if the unrest were to continue along the same trajectory, it might lead to widespread chaos or even turn Iran into “another Syria.”

Second, it is agreed by most observers that the most public and extensive case of Iran’s current regional involvement is that in the Syrian conflict. However, it is noteworthy that given the complicated nature of the conflict, it has been effectively tied to both Iranian religious and nationalist sentiments — especially given the number of Iranian soldiers who have lost their lives fighting in Syria. As such, the Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, is considered by many young Iranians to be a symbol of patriotism and national strength.

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