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Prospects for Democratization in Iran: Policy Implications

The breakdown or modification of the Islamic Republic, though not imminent, is increasingly conceivable. However, in the event that the regime were tofall, Iran is bereft of many of the social and economic requisites for a stable democracy to emerge. About 80% of the Iranian economy is in the hands of the state, the private sector is dependent and feeble, and the 70% of the Iranians that are under the age of 30 are neither propertied nor middle class. This has implications for US policy, made all the more urgent by the timeline imposed by the looming nuclear issue. Rather than experiment with ineffectual and counter-productive attempts at democracy promotion, this study suggests that a policy of long-term international diplomatic and economic engagement is the best available tool for transforming Iranian society and politics in such a way that a transition to a sustained and stable democracy and, by implication, a resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue, becomes more likely.

Prospects for Democratization in Iran Policy Implications
Given the current configuration and trajectory of socioeconomic trends, there are strong structural impediments to a sustained transition to liberal democracy
 

The most pressing challenge created by the United States’ failure to create a friendly, stable and prosperous ally in Iraq is how to deal with Iran. By removing Iran’s chief military threat and failing to credibly replace it, the US has opened the door to an expansion of Iranian power and influence in the region. Coming at a time when Iranian ultra-conservatives are ascendant, reformists are in disarray, and the nuclear program is reaching the point of no return, the problem is increasing in both its urgency and intractability. While the imperatives of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and dampening its influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories remain, the strategic environment has become much more complex and fluid, and the US’s influence over actors and events promises to be much less decisive than in the past.1 Given Iran’s increasing strategic importance, having a compliant regime in Tehran matters now more than ever. 

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