Innovative Performances and Regime Endurance: How Did the Iranian Regime Survive the Reform Era (1997-2005)?

Amirhossein Teimouri, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Social scientists have extensively discussed the causes of regime survival in the face of opposition movements. These studies are mostly geared toward repression and concession tactics, state-organized mass movements to intimidate opposition groups and forestall their mobilization, and internal strife within the opposition forces. Scant attention, however, has been paid to political regimes’ innovative performances that enhance their repertoire of contention not only to stymie opposition movements but also to extend their popular base. Dynamics of the Iranian regime during what is known as the Reform Era (1997-2005) helps stretch the boundaries of contentious politics. Extending Tilly’s works on contentious politics, I discuss how the Iranian regime, in order to thwart cultural, political, and policy threats posed by liberally-recognized reformists, was renewing its performances during the Reform Era. Some of the innovative performances extending beyond contentious protest events and deployed by the political regime include but are not limited to: public prayers in streets of big cities; Etekaf or sit-ins in mosques for at least three days prior to Ramadan and/or during it; mass marches to the Jamkaran mosque; the increasing number of national celebrations for the birthday of Twelfth Imam of Shia, Imam Mahdi and events related to Mahdaviat; massive mourning crowds for the anniversary of martyrdom of the daughter of the Prophet, Fatemeh, known as Fatemyya; and burial of unknown martyrs in public places and mountains. I draw on news outlets such as ISNA, Kayhan, Shoma, and Sobh to establish my argument of regime survival in relation to innovative performances. I demonstrate that the Iranian regime, thanks to using cultural and religious resources embedded in Shia Islam, was innovative in enhancing its repertoire of contention, going beyond repression tactics to contain reformists. These original performances, by enduring the regime’s revolutionary fervor, helped the regime survive the reformists’ threat.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 217. Dynamics of Political Conflict in Middle Eastern States