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The Islamic Republic Wants a Referendum? Start in Iran


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Middle East Forum

Michael Rubin
Middle East Forum Observer
January 17, 2024

The Iranian regime believes it is running high. Three years ago, the Islamic Republic was near bankruptcy because of sanctions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's "Maximum Pressure" campaign. Hezbollah had trouble paying its salaries, and Iraqis complained the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that gave birth and long subsidized specific Shi'ite militias now demanded remittances from them.

The Islamic Republic's Achilles' heel has always been questions about its legitimacy. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini mobilized Iranians to oust the shah. Historians estimate ten percent of Iranians took part in the street protests that forced the shah to flee into exile. In comparison, only one percent of Russians participated in the Bolshevik Revolution, and two percent of colonists participated in the American Revolution. Most Iranians, however, mobilized over what they were against but did not share a common vision. Khomeini elided this problem by saying different things to different groups or by outright lying. "I don't want to have the power of government in my hand; I am not interested in personal power," he told one gullible journalist.

On April 1, 1979, two months to the day after his return, Khomeini sponsored a referendum with a single question: "Do you want an Islamic Republic?" He never defined what an Islamic Republic would mean but nearly 45 years later, regime officials still base their legitimacy on this initial vote.


If Khamenei and Raisi are as certain as they claim that they have popular legitimacy, invite in UN observers and international monitors and hold a new referendum with a simple question: "Do you want an Islamic Republic?" if the answer is no, consider the Islamic Republic dissolved and prepare for a new, democratic constitutional order.

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