The Authoritarian Resurgence: Iran’s Paradoxical Regime

Issue Date April 2015
Volume 26
Issue 2
Page Numbers 52-60
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Clerical authoritarianism in Iran is full of many paradoxes. The country has a dour, male-dominated, undemocratic structure of power, yet pulsating beneath this mirthless authoritarianism pulsates a youthful, internet-savvy society bent on realizing more and more of its democratic rights. The women’s movement, fighting against misogynist laws, is a prime example of this political dissonance. A new kind of micro-political defiance, spread through myriad loci of life—from underground theater and art groups, to sexual ethics and social media—has begot talk of “culture wars” in Iran. While some dismiss the regime's tolerance of these acts of defiance as merely a form of “repressive tolerance” others see it as a new kind of cultural politics geared toward not a regime change but a change of regime through the gradual inexorable resistance to the regime’s failed and increasingly failing efforts at “social engineering.”