Protests in Iran: Maybe Not the Tocqueville Paradox

December 5, 2022

Professor Ali Ansari of the University of St. Andrews discusses the protests in Iran, the interplay between state and religion, and how Iran relates to other authoritarian regimes on International Horizons.

Ali Ansari appears to the left with the colors of the Iranian flag behind him. The green color blends into an image of women in head coverings from behind at a protest.

In mid-September of this year, a young Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died under suspicious circumstances after her arrest by the country's morality police for improperly covering her hair. Her death set off a huge wave of protests across Iran – the biggest in many years. The protesters’ rallying cry was “Women, Life, Freedom,” and women have indeed taken a prominent role in the demonstrations that followed Amini’s death.  

Ali Ansari, professor at the University of St. Andrews speaks about the protests in Iran, their ideological basis, and the interplay between state and religion in the desires of the population with Presidential Professor and Ralph Bunche Institute Director John Torpey. Moreover, Ansari discusses the reasons why Iran supports Russia in the war on Ukraine, and how this support has boosted attention to the protests, converting them into a transnational phenomenon. Ansari also compares the health of the Iranian and the Chinese regimes in the middle of the protests and concludes that the dire social and economic situation of the Iranian people has made them fearless and defiant of the status quo, whereas China's CCP has more leverage.

International Horizons is part of the New Books Network of academic podcasts. Subscribe to the RSS feed or find it on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. A lightly edited transcript follows below. 


John Torpey  00:15

In mid-September of this year, a young Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died under suspicious circumstances after her arrest by the morality police for improperly covering her hair. Her death set off a huge wave of protests across Iran – the biggest in many years. The protesters’ rallying cry was “Women, Life, Freedom,” and women have indeed taken a prominent role in the demonstrations that followed Amini’s death. There have been protests against the regime in Iran before, but they have never yet resulted in the collapse of the very unpopular regime of the Mullahs. What is happening in Iran and what is likely to happen in the future?   

John Torpey  00:59

Welcome to International Horizons, a podcast of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies that brings scholarly and diplomatic expertise to bear on our understanding of a wide range of international issues. My name is John Torpey, and I’m director of the Ralph Bunche Institute at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. 

John Torpey  01:13 

We are fortunate to have with us today Ali Ansari, who is professor of Iranian History and Founding Director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. In 2018, he was elected Honorary Vice President of the British Institute for Persian Studies, and in 2016 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His publications include Modern Iran Since 1797, now in a third updated edition from Taylor & Francis, Iran, Islam & Democracy: The Politics of Managing Change, also in a third updated edition; Iran: A Very Short Introduction from Oxford University Press; and The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran from Cambridge University Press in 2012, among others. He joins us today from St. Andrews. Thanks for being with us today, Ali Ansari. 

Ali Ansari  02:17

Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

John Torpey  02:18

Great to have you. So maybe we could just go over where we stand, with a brief account of what happened in Iran and what's happening now.  The demonstrations that followed Mahsa Amini death in September are no longer front page news, but have they in fact ended in the meantime?

Ali Ansari  02:39

Well, we witnessed some of the most intense and widespread protests in the country for several years. And they've been going on really, fairly consistently for the past 10 weeks. They seem now to have subsided slightly, but it's far too early to say that they burned themselves out. The protests are still occurring throughout the country, if not on the same scale. 

Ali Ansari  03:02

There's lots of individual acts of resistance that are taking place. But also I think what's more interesting is the way the regime is trying to find ways in which it can try and reconcile itself to what's going on. It finds the demands of the protesters quite difficult to comprehend, really within its own Islamic worldview or Islamist worldview. And certainly, it's been somewhat sort of shaken by the fact that the protesters are so young; I mean, they're not really so young, but there are also many women are involved, obviously, in leading these protests. 

Ali Ansari  03:33

So it has caught them off guard, it's certainly not the only protests that have taken place; these protests are the latest in the sequence of pretty violent protests and their subsequent repression, of course, over the last few years. And so they're part of a continuum. So we're likely to see this sort of occur in waves. And things may quiet down for a little bit. People will be catching their breath, people will be working out what to do next. But certainly, I think we're a long way from saying that this is over. 

Ali Ansari  04:12

In large part also, because this fight this time around this protest, if you will, is very ideological. It's not economic, really, in its origins. It's not even really political, even though obviously, the ambitions are political. But the fact is that there is an ideological gulf between the protesters and the regime that is so wide now that it's difficult to know how it's going to unfold.

John Torpey  04:39

Interesting. So I mean, as you spoke, I thought about what's been going on in China and the way in which there's a very clear kind of spark that has generated all these protests in China. And it also opens out on to larger issues of democracy and free speech and those sorts of things, even the idea of bringing down the Xi Jinping regime. But maybe you could talk about how the situation in Iran compares with that story. I mean, the spark may have been the death of Mahsa Amini, but then there's the question of what are the larger kinds of concerns that people are motivated by?

Ali Ansari  05:24

I think that's quite right. I mean, I think a number of people have tended to focus very much on the issue of Amini's death as a result of her being taken into custody because of poor veiling, and basically seen it through the prism of a protest against mandatory hijab or mandatory veiling. But of course, that's only a catalyst for a much deeper resentment that's built up in Iranian society. And the demands --in a very much like in China, in actual fact; I mean, there's some really interesting parallels to be drawn here --the demands are for basically, fundamental rights. Rights that we would, in many ways in the West, take for granted as we said.

Ali Ansari  06:03

But what they're looking for in Iran, I think, is a much more secular type of government. By which I don't mean irreligious, by the way they've been their understanding of secularism is very much taken from a sort of an Anglo-American model of the Enlightenment, which is basically the separation of church and state. They don't want to see religion and politics conjoined, they think it's bad for religion, they think it's not very good for politics, either. They have argued this for some time, this has been going on for decades, actually. 

Ali Ansari  06:33

I mean, interestingly enough, in the early 2000s, when there was a reformist president in power, he actively engaged with the argument that actually the model the Iranians should look at is the United States, and would quote de Tocqueville and Democracy in America very favorably actually in pursuit of an agenda. But of course, that was not to be; the hardliners within the regime were much keener on this sort of theocratic state around this clerical figure known as the Supreme Leader in the vernacular, but really Guardianship of the [Islamic] Jurist, or Supreme Jurist.

Ali Ansari  07:09

And this individual has an enormous amount of power and authority certainly granted, I mean, as it has developed. I mean, I think people in the West don't fully comprehend that this is not someone who believes that they're anointed by God, or some sort of divine right monarchy on 17th or 18th century Western model. This is actually someone who believes that their role makes them the representative of the divine on earth, and they are accountable only to the divine; they're not accountable to the population. And as a consequence, I think, makes them a very, very difficult and very bad government. And people are fed up with it. 

Ali Ansari  07:50

So if you look at the demands, the demands are there, they're very well articulated. Actually, in an anthem --they've sort of developed a popular anthem that was taken by a singer in Iran, who has obviously since been arrested --but he took down all the demands and requests and yearnings of young people that had been put on various social media platforms. And he articulated it into a composition, which went viral. I mean, it's been extremely popular, and that, in many ways, articulates the demands of the protesters better than any manifesto could do, if I can put it that way. But it's very clear that what they're looking for is an end to the Islamic Republic. And ideally, I think, you know, the establishment of some sort of the Republic. I mean, they want a normal state, if I can put it that way. They don't want a revolutionary state anymore in this sense. And they certainly don't want a religious revolutionary state.

John Torpey  08:47

Interesting. I mean, as it happens, I just --back to this parallel, or possible parallel with China --I was reading something yesterday, I think in Foreign Policy by Yasheng Huang who also kind of talked about Tocqueville in the context of the sort of "Tocqueville paradox" where autocratic regimes are at their most vulnerable when they kind of relax themselves a bit. Right? And he was suggesting that that's kind of what's going on in contemporary China. But the sort of importance of liberal currents and liberal ideas in the Iranian story is, I think you know something about and it goes back a long way, right? I mean, people my age (60-ish) have only known Iran as the regime of the Mullahs more or less, right? I mean, I was 18 or something when that revolution took place. And I didn't know a hell of a lot about Iran at the time. So maybe you can talk a little bit about the way these impulses have jostled with each other in, say, 21st Century Iranian history. 

Ali Ansari  10:05

I mean, you know, one of the things that I think is quite interesting from a historical perspective is that, and as you quite rightly say, for those of us who are basically of certain generation --and I think we're alike, to be honest-- we've only known this sort of Islamic Republic. I mean, I obviously grew up in Iran in the Shah's period. So I knew a different type of Iran, too. But there was generally a narrative developed after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that, actually, Iran in ‘79, had reverted to the norm. The norm of its culture that had gone back to something which the Shah, or the secularizing monarchs of the early 20th century had taken Iran off the wrong way: tried to make Iran "westernized" in that sense. And that's a narrative that has taken hold in a lot of people, particularly between many social scientists in the West. And many people, as you say, have known nothing else. And they [Westerners], in a sense, they have normalized what's happened in Iran. 

Ali Ansari  10:57

Now, for many Iranians, of course, and those of us who study Iran, we know that actually Iran has a very, very strong tradition of humanism, and a very strong tradition of sort of liberal humanism. Now, that's not to say that it's been, that society is conservative (with a small c), but the fact is that for the better part of 150 years, there's been a very strong drive in Iran towards a sort of a progressive modernization. The adoption of what we would describe as broadly liberal values in terms of political governance and the organization of the polity. 

Ali Ansari  11:29

They haven't really achieved that, in a practical sense. But in a series of movements in the 20th century, including a very important revolution at the beginning of the 20th century known as the Constitutional Revolution, which basically laid the foundations and the template for modern Iranian politics, by the way. It's largely been overshadowed by the Islamic Revolution. Of course, most people don't know about it, because of course, it's not something any of us, in a sense, we have proximity to in terms of our lifespans. But the fact is that, in my view, certainly, if you look at the history of Iran, and if you look at the political history of Iran, the Constitutional Revolution, I think, is far more important in terms of the development of that country than the Islamic Revolution. 

Ali Ansari  12:12

And there is an argument really to be said that in many ways, the Islamic Revolution, and that move towards a much more Islamized society was the aberration, not the return to the norm. And that what you're seeing now in Iran is an attempt to get back to that sort of center ground, if I can put it that way. Again, it's not to say that you're going to eliminate religion from Iranian society. Of course, that's not the argument. The argument is that you need a proper balance between Islam and the Republic, as some in the Islamic Republic had sought to do, but it's since failed. 

Ali Ansari  12:45

And I think people now realize that that marriage of Islam and democracy is actually extremely difficult to do when you have this sort of theocratic, overpowering state on top of everything. And that actually, the only way you can protect religion, as many people 100 years ago really ascertained, was to keep those two elements of public life quite distinctive, you know, quite separate. Not to say that religion would not have an influence on politics, of course it would, but that it wouldn't have a direct and everyday role in the minutiae of government. 

John Torpey  13:21

Right. Interesting. I mean, here there's sort of a parallel with Kemalist Turkey, I suppose as well.

Ali Ansari  13:27

Yes, to some extent. But I would take, the reason why I would make a distinction there, and the reason why I've also very specifically said as sort of an Anglo-American model is, of course, that Kemalist Turkey takes a very Francophone model of the state, in which religion comes under state authority. In this case, it's not what in Iran they're actually looking at, what they have looked at is a very much an Anglo-American model, which is a distinctive view of the way in which the state develops, much more in a way decentralized, almost one could say federal in its structure. Again, I don't want to over egg that argument, because obviously, the British model and the American model are different in particular ways. But of course, they do share that notion that you devolve power as much as possible to the localities and you don't centralize as much as say the French state would, which is where the Turkish Republic really took a lot of its ideas from.

John Torpey  14:21

Absolutely, Durkheim was a founding father of modern Turkey in sort of odd ways. But in any case, this is interesting, I think, about the relationship between Iran and the United States. And, Iran was not a particularly popular country when it was holding a bunch of our diplomats in the early aftermath of the revolution. But, now that Iranians are out protesting on the street, you have this sense that the American people, at least, are generally pretty supportive; it came up in the World Cup as a kind of political issue in a kind of non-political setting, supposedly. But it's an interesting question: what should the American government be doing? I mean, I think in the past, they have often felt like they have to be careful about what how much they support protest in places like this, because then the protesters come to be portrayed by the regime as the tools of the CIA. So I mean, how do you see that all developing? 

Ali Ansari  15:29

It's an extremely delicate situation, I think, as you quite rightly say, because of that historical relationship. And the historical relationship that goes both ways, of course, the Iranians will look back in a sort of an official capacity, obviously, to 1953 and the coup, and so on, and so forth. But of course, it's interesting, because I think the relationship is a good deal more nuanced than some of the ideological expressions will have it. And, you draw attention to the World Cup. And one of the striking things about the recent World Cup match is when the Iranian team lost, I mean, a lot of them were crying on American shoulders. I mean, it was really quite extraordinary when you saw it. 

Ali Ansari  16:07

And the American team was extremely, I think, compassionate and caring in terms of its approach. I mean, it was a reminder there that actually --and this is something that I like to make, and I've written about-- that the problem (and I say this both in an Anglo-American way, as well, because it's a British and American problem with Iran) is that the problem in a popular sense as been actually the expectations of the Americans and the British have been much higher in terms of their political expectations of what these two countries can deliver. 

Ali Ansari  16:07

And because these two countries are seen to have not delivered to let the Iranians down, in a sense, that's where the emotion becomes extremely tense. And I always say to people, if people feel betrayed, there has to be something to betray. I mean, this is the point. You don't get the same sort of emotion with the Russians, okay, because the Iranians sort of don't have any expectations of the Russians. But they did have expectations. And I think that's an important distinction that has to be appreciated in both London in Washington. 

Ali Ansari  17:07

So, what can the Americans do? Or the British do for that matter? What can they do? Well, of course, one has to navigate this carefully. But also, what I would suggest is you shouldn't, you don't need to tiptoe around in this sort of fairly anxious way. Because, as you quite rightly pointed out, the regime will say, "Oh, well, this shows their CIA operatives, and so on, and so forth. And they're disturbing this." 

Ali Ansari  17:31

Interestingly, at the moment, the target of their ire is actually Saudi Arabia, it's not America at all, which is very interesting. And they're also very focused and targeted on the Germans and the French, which is quite striking, given that normally, it's the British and the Americans. So I think, while they do have a focus, the regime will always have a focus on blaming foreigners for what they think is going on. But that's pretty par for the course for any autocracy, by the way. No autocracy likes to say it's our fault, you know; someone else has caused this problem. 

Ali Ansari  17:59

I think the Americans, in many ways now, can afford to be a little bit more on the front foot, if you will, in terms of looking at these protests. So I was very struck, for instance, that Obama, in a moment of reflection recently said that he regretted not having been more forceful in his, or more explicit, shall we say, and his support for the Green Movement in 2009, which is, it's the Green Movement that really forms the intellectual or the political sort of ancestor in a sense of these revolts. I mean, they're very tied in that sense, in terms of an immediate protest. 

Ali Ansari  18:34

But that was very striking that he said that, because I think that the Americans shouldn't be shy about, when, like I say, to my Western colleagues: "don't be afraid to take yes for an answer."  I mean, the Iranians are calling for something, which are basically what we would term basic human rights, fundamental rights, things that the Americans and other Western democracies have been very, very prominent in defense of. So when countries and people call for this, I think it behooves not to be shy and say, "Yeah, you know, this is something that we can relate to, it's something we can appreciate, and it's something that within the limits of what can and cannot be done, we're happy at least to give a verbal support, emotional support, shine a light on it, maintain communication, so on and so forth." 

Ali Ansari  19:29

I mean, I think one has to be very careful how far one goes down the path of sort of like, in, you know, intervening, so to speak, but I don't think there's any merit in that. But certainly, what I would not do, which has been a problem, I think, in the past, is do things that assist the other side, if I can put it that way, that make life easier for the repression, you know, don't allow that to happen. 

Ali Ansari  19:56

There was a very famous document that was issued in the aftermath of the Constitutional Revolution in 1906, where Iranian revolutionaries came to London to try and solicit support from the British, who had lost interest, sadly, in the Constitutional Revolution. And they put it very nicely, actually. And I can't put it any better. They said, "We're not asking you to come and intervene in our revolution; We can handle our revolution. What we're asking you to do is to stop the Russians intervening in our revolution." And that was very well put, and at the moment, of course, because of what's going on in Ukraine and Russia's own involvement, I mean, what's very striking as well is that we're in a situation where the Russians are not actually in a position to help the autocrats in Tehran at the moment, which is another interesting parallel with earlier periods. 

John Torpey  20:41

Right. Well, you've mentioned Russia, the Russians, a couple of times now. And I wanted indeed, to get into this question now of the current context, the fact that the Iranians have apparently thrown in their lot with the Russians, are supplying a lot of weaponry, apparently. Maybe you could talk about the history of this relationship, and what kind of may explain why they're taking sides with the Russians in this context. 

Ali Ansari  21:07

So traditionally, I mean, traditionally, the Russians and the British were the two imperial powers that basically put lots of pressure on Iran in the 19th century and in the early 20th century. And if you look at the metrics, if you will, the Russians have always done much, much more damage to the territorial integrity and the national sort of integrity of Iran over the years. Yet, since 1979, the Russians have not really been in a position of the bad boy. It's always been the Americans, as you mentioned: the hostage crisis, so on and so forth. It's always the Americans who have been targeted to a lesser extent, you know, the British as well.

Ali Ansari  21:42

The Russians miraculously seem to have somehow managed to whitewash their imperial past. I mean, it's an extraordinary achievement. But it's partly also due to ideology and the way in which those in Iran as a revolutionary movement saw themselves, defined themselves very much against the United States, against global capitalism, and this sort of thing. So, of course, that fit in rather well in some ways with the sort of the ideology of the Soviet Union. 

Ali Ansari  22:06

And then, of course, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia no longer becomes a neighbor to Iran. It actually retreats from the frontiers of Iran; Central Asia and Caucasia opens up. And in some ways, then, in a curious way, Russia and Iran become partners in trying to manage that legacy. Iran certainly has its own interests, but there is a sort of a strange coincidence of interests with a shrunken and somewhat humiliated Russia. And, of course, the nature of grievance that the Russian state then has against the West, certainly through, you know, at the end of the 1990s when Putin comes into power, and he sort of redefines that sort of muscular Russian nationalism, and he thinks that the West has betrayed Russia, and so on and so forth. Well, that parallels very neatly, it sort of segues very neatly with the ideology that's coming out of Iran. 

Ali Ansari  22:06

So there's a very strong ideological synergy between the two powers, which I think most people haven’t really appreciated, including myself I should say, only really appreciated the last year. I mean, nobody really understood that Putin had drunk from the well of Iranian sort of revolutionary ideology quite so deeply as he appears to have done or whether, to be honest, that relationship is much more symbiotic and cross-fertilizes than we think. But nevertheless, there is that. 

Ali Ansari  23:22

And then of course, there are much more practical considerations of the sort of the relationship between the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the military-industrial complex in Russia. So again, if you think about it over the last two decades and stuff, the Russian economy is not in great shape, one of the things that can export and export quite well as military hardware. And Iranian military, there's no access to Western military technology, so it finds Iran is a willing customer to that. So they build a very sort of tight relationship. And then that is extended into the sort of the complimentary mafias, effectively, that run Russia and Iran at the moment. 

Ali Ansari  23:56

So they have these very tight personal relationships, reinforced by sound commercial interest in terms of military hardware sales, and again, double again, reinforced by ideological synergies. And that's basically led Iran, which began this revolution really on the notion of neither East nor West (you know, "we're going to be rigorously neutral") actually shifting very firmly into the Russian camp. And of course, they have a very strong vested interest in Syria. They both got involved in Syria, the Russians actually used much of Iranian airspace they transited through, they used an airbase there and so on.

Ali Ansari  24:36

So all this sort of stuff has been really quite astonishing. But even I have to say, even I did not see the fact that last February, as the Russians invaded Ukraine that the Iranians would be so emphatic in their support of Russia, to the extent to the rather perverse situation now that the Russians are actually buying Iranian weaponry. I mean, the relationship has gone in a sense in reverse. But it is bound, I think, by a common shared loathing of the West by the regimes. And I think it's a view that's shared by many Iranian people, I have to say. I think a lot of Iranian people find this cozying up to Russia to be deeply, deeply distressing. 

Ali Ansari  25:17

And of course, I should add here that it adds another layer and dimension to these protests in Iran, because what it means is that in siding up with Russia, in this explicitly supportive of Russia and its war in the Ukraine, you know, the Europeans, in particular, have taken a very dim view of this. And, if you look at the sanctions that are being --Iran is probably the most sanctioned country in the world, right -- but even the additional sanctions that people are putting on are actually for Iran's supply of assistance to Russia. It's actually not so much for the protests, because there's limited stuff you can do on that anyway. 

Ali Ansari  25:54

But that's, I think, quite interesting, because it's made the protests part of a transnational crisis. And I mean, very bizarrely, this is to me, one of the great failings of the current regime in Iran. Is that it has not understood in a way that by doing that, you know, we now have a situation where Zelenskyy in Ukraine is one of the cheerleaders of women's rights in Iran. I mean, he's a doing a great job at publicizing this. And because he sees Iran as part of the combined enemy. So it's a remarkable turn of events. And I have to say, for those of us who studied it, I'm sure you appreciate a lot of us can study these things on paper and can theorize about it, but actually to see it in practice is quite, still quite shocking. 

John Torpey  26:46

Sure. Well, none of us are prognosticators, but I'm going to ask you to prognosticate. I mean, again, thinking about what's going on in China, on the one hand, there's the kind of view that this is all going to fizzle that the Chinese have deep and broad kind of resources when it comes to repressing dissent. However, sort of vigorous these demonstrations may be in contemporary China, it's probably not going to really end up with a lot of result. On the other hand, it does seem as though the Chinese regime is relaxing some of its COVID requirements and constraints. And so maybe it is actually having an effect on regime policy. So, how would you sort of analyze that situation in regard to Iran?

Ali Ansari  27:38

Well, one of the interesting things is, I think, and I can't speak with any authority on China, of course, but my reading of it would really be that the Chinese state and the Communist Party are probably in more robust health than the Iranian equivalent. That's not to say that the Chinese don't have problems, as you quite rightly say, but I think it gives them a certain latitude to be flexible. So that sort of flexibility in policy is something that actually comes from strength. 

Ali Ansari  28:05

In Iran, on the other hand, the sense you get is that they are actually increasingly paranoid about the consequences of their actions. There's less coherence, the Supreme Leader himself is very ill, is probably not in the best of health. So that ultimate decision maker is slightly not responding, really, in real time. So that's a problem. There's anxiety in the elite because of that in Iran. But they are also haunted. I mean, this is also something that as an academic I find quite entertaining (I don't think it's very entertaining in real life) but it's this idea that they're haunted by the experience of the Shah in 1978. 

Ali Ansari  28:45

And what they fear, as they say, their reading of the revolution in '78 is that the Shah showed weakness, and the minute you showed weakness, people took advantage of this, and realized that he was lambasted effectively, and the revolution just gathered momentum. So because they're so worried that this impression will be given, and it's a damning indictment of them in some ways that they feel that if they show a hint of weakness, they're doomed, basically. What this means, of course, is that they're forced into a sort of a course of action, which in many ways is just gonna make matters even worse. I mean, they don't have any creative license in a way in terms of their response. Their response at the moment is really to repress, but they're finding that very, very difficult to handle. 

Ali Ansari  29:39

Not least because they, however secure you feel your security forces are, there's always going to be a question of doubt about how often the security forces will shoot on their own people. I mean, it's always going to be a question. I mean, if we think back to Tiananmen Square, of course, the Chinese brought in military forces from outside Beijing to come and do the dirty work. And of course, there's an element of that in Iran where you don't bring local, local forces don't deal with local issues, you bring people from other areas. 

Ali Ansari  30:08

But that it's more difficult in Iran. Iran is a smaller political unit than China to be able to do that and to get away with that in the long term. So again, it's a conundrum for them. 

John Torpey  30:19

Fascinating. Well, we'll have to see whether the Tocqueville paradox plays out in Iran as well. Sounds like that could be...

Ali Ansari  30:26

The interesting thing there is, and when we raised the point about the fact that the Tocqueville paradox, when things seem in some ways are getting better, the regime is most vulnerable. In some ways, I don't think that applies to Iran at the moment. I think the situation is so bad that people have nothing to lose. I mean, there always used to be an argument that poor people don't revolt, because they're too busy trying to eat. But I think that assessment, there's got to be recalibrated in a sense, because I think there comes a stage where people have absolutely nothing to lose, and therefore they will revolt. There is that problem. And it could be, it doesn't necessarily need to be material poverty, in a sense, it can be political poverty, if I can put it there. Or ideological poverty, I mean, people no longer have any commitment to the regime. So it's not so much even that the situation in Iran has got a bit better, which I think is a situation you might apply to China at the moment because obviously they're materially economically doing much, much better. But Iran is in a disastrous position, actually. If you look at its environmental record, its economic record, and in any metric. It's painful. It's painful to watch, I have to say.

John Torpey  31:42

So maybe not the Tocqueville paradox, but the Janis Joplin axiom: "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." All right, well, we'll have to play it out and see what happens. But thanks so much, Ali Ansari for sharing your wisdom about what's going on contemporary Iran. 

John Torpey  32:05

Look for us on the New Books Network. And remember to subscribe and rate International Horizons on Spotify and Apple podcasts. I want to thank Oswaldo Mena Aguilar for his technical assistance, as well as to acknowledge Duncan Mackay for sharing his song "International Horizons" as the theme music for the show. This is John Torpey, saying, thanks so much for joining us, and we look forward to having you with us for the next episode of International Horizons.