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Policy Analysis

Policy Focus 125

The Islamic Republic's Art of Survival: Neutralizing Domestic and Foreign Threats

Saeid Golkar

Also available in العربية

June 2013

Over the past three decades, the Iranian regime has managed to survive numerous internal and external crises. From coup attempts to war and, most recently, mass uprisings and nuclear sanctions, the Islamic Republic has been able to neutralize threats at home and on its borders while avoiding foreign intervention.

In this Policy Focus, Dr. Saeid Golkar explains how Tehran has fended off so many challenges to its rule. By creating parallel military and social structures such as the IRGC and Basij, then controlling them through economic enticements, pervasive surveillance, and intense indoctrination, the regime has co-opted and disorganized its domestic opponents and those inclined to support them. Meanwhile, it has deterred its foreign enemies through a combination of public diplomacy, asymmetric warfare, and support for radical proxies in numerous countries. Although this strategy may not be sustainable for much longer, understanding its mechanisms is crucial to determining the regime's true pressure points.


Saeid Golkar is a fellow at the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern University. Previously, he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University. His most recent analysis has appeared in Politics, Religion & Ideology, Armed Forces & Society, Digest of Middle East Studies, and Middle East Quarterly, among other publications.