Few organizations still carry the revolutionary torch. The Revolutionary Guards are willing to kill and die in Syria. The Basij, a “mobilization” force of club-wielding thugs under the command of the Guards, has been willing to murder its own countrymen to preserve the clerical state. But its commitment appears so sharp precisely because Iranian society as a whole has moved on.
Mosques all over Iran are empty at prayer times. In 2015 a Revolutionary Guard commander, Ziaeddin Hozni, revealed that only about 3,000 of the country’s 57,000 Shiite mosques were fully operational. And of the 3,000, some were only functioning during the religious months of Ramadan and Muharram. The Shiites have usually been less diligent than Sunnis in mosque attendance, but lack of attendance is striking in an explicitly Shiite state run by mullahs.
Do not underestimate how these trends influence the protests. Youth unemployment and the ever-rising price of food matter. But even more important is the collapse of the revolution’s civilizing mission among the college-educated children of the ruling elite and the poorly educated urban working class. Nothing in the nuclear accord can revive the fraternity that once bound Iranians together. The current eruptions may well fail to unseat the mullahs. Yet as the great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun warned, there is always another asabiyya, or galvanizing spirit of a superior force, waiting outside the capital, gaining unstoppable momentum.