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Source: RFE/RL

Feb 8, 2023

By Golnaz Esfandiari

The Big Issue

Opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi has called for the "fundamental transformation" of Iran's theocratic political system as anti-regime protests continue to rage across the country. In a statement on February 4, the 80-year-old called for a "free" referendum and the drafting of a new constitution.

Musavi, a former prime minister who has been under house arrest since 2011, added that Iranians want change based on the slogan "Woman, life, freedom" -- which many have been chanting during the months of antiestablishment protests.

Seven prominent political prisoners, including reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, backed Musavi's call in a joint statement on February 5.

Why It Matters:

In the past, opposition figures inside Iran often called for reforms to the clerically led system. But Musavi's statement, in which he proposes a post-Islamic republic future, marks a shift. His comments appear to reflect a wider change in Iranian society.

"Iranians now share a broad-based consensus that something in the regime is broken and cannot be mended," Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, wrote in an article for Foreign Affairs magazine. He said that "illusions of reforms" have been replaced by an "irrevocable demand for fundamental political change and freedom."

During the current protests, the biggest challenge to the regime in decades, demonstrators have attacked the symbols of the Islamic republic and overtly called for an end to clerical rule.

Musavi's comments have added to growing calls for political change in Iran. Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, in a February 5 statement, did not go as far as Musavi. But he said there was "widespread discontent" in Iran and expressed hope that "nonviolent civil methods [will] force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms."

What's Next:

There is little sign that the authorities will alter their approach or make significant concessions. The regime is likely to double down on its position and continue to use violence to stamp out any opposition to its rule in the future.

The authorities recently ordered an amnesty or reduction in prison sentences for the thousands of people arrested during the deadly crackdown on the protests, suggesting the regime believes it has managed to end the unrest using force.

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What We're Watching

Iran unveiled what it said was an underground air-force base on February 7. The base can accommodate fighter jets, bombers, and drones, according to state media, which released images and videos from inside the base. The location of the base was not disclosed, but state TV said it was "at the depth of hundreds of meters under the mountains" and capable of withstanding "bombs by strategic U.S. bombers."

The official IRNA news agency claimed that the base, named Eagle 44, is just one of the several underground air bases constructed in recent years. In May, state media published images of what it said was an underground drone base in western Iran.

What's Next: The unveiling of the base, which came as the country prepares to mark the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, appears to be an attempt to show strength at a time when the clerical regime is facing mounting pressure at home and abroad.

It also comes after a suspected Israeli drone strike hit an Iranian military facility on January 28, in an attack that analysts said was part of a new effort to contain Tehran. The new "containment strategy" comes amid growing concerns over Iran's nuclear program and its supply of combat drones to Russia, which has allegedly used them in the war in Ukraine.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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