When anti-regime protesters become deadly serious, the questions become: (1) Is the regime willing to shoot them en masse and, if so, (2) will its forces do so. If the answer to either question is no, expect the regime to become the former regime.
Regimes typically are willing to shoot protesters if they deem it necessary. However, there are exceptions, for example when the foreign power that supports the regime won’t back such measures (e.g., the U.S. with Iran in 1979 and the Soviet Union with East Germany in 1989).
I’m pretty sure the Iranian regime is willing to shoot protesters en masse, if it comes to that. And this regime is not beholden to or constrained by any foreign power.
Are Iranian forces willing to shoot protesters en masse? Will they have to, or will the protesters back down after a few are killed?
I don’t think anyone knows the answers. Amir Teheri says that, so far, “more and more security units refuse to attack protesters as they did in 2009.” Thus, “the mullahs might find it hard to persuade their gunmen to kill unarmed protesters as before.” The key word here is “might.”
But there is a positive development in Iran that wasn’t present during the 2009 protests. The Iranian president, Rouhani, granted opponents of the regime permission to protest, as long as they do so peacefully. He said:
People are completely free in criticising [the government] or protesting, [but] criticism is different from violence and destroying property . . . The government will definitely not tolerate any destruction of public property or social order. If there is insecurity, can jobs be created? Will people’s economic situation improve?
People are not only criticising [the government for] the economic situation. People have something to say about corruption and transparency. People want to know what is going on in the lawmaking, judicial and other sectors.
I don’t believe Rouhani sets policy for the regime or that he’s going to play Gorbachev’s role here. However, it may be that expressions like these from the landslide winner of last May’s election will have an impact on how far some of the regime’s forces are willing to go to suppress protests. Again, if it comes to that.
In any case, I agree with Fred Fleitz that “this particular set of protests might die out, but they are part of what Iran expert Michael Ledeen has long predicted: an irreversible trend moving toward the day when the Iranian people topples a regime it despises.