Iran’s clerical leaders face deepening dissent in 2023

STORY: Mahsa Amini's death has ushered Iran into a new era of deepening crisis... between the clerical leadership and society at large.

It's unleashed years of pent-up anger among Iranians over a range of issues:

tightening social and political controls - economic misery - and discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Now, Iran's religious leaders are facing their worst legitimacy crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

They've responded by framing the unrest as breakaway uprisings by ethnic minorities - while arresting and executing protesters.

The turmoil - led by women and young people - poses a grave threat to the survival of the Islamic Republic.

The movement is also leaderless - a challenge to forcing a new political order.

It's exposed the establishment's vulnerability to popular anger, raising concerns among top leaders that a misstep could mean more trouble ahead - even if current protests die down.

Violent crackdowns have only stoked more protests and are contributing to reluctance from Western leaders to revive a 2015 nuclear pact worth billions.

Analysts say the Islamic Republic will be consumed by a "revolutionary process" in 2023.

That means more protests - with neither side backing down.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is unlikely to compromise on ideological pillars, like compulsory hijabs.

The question of who will eventually succeed him may also widen rifts in the establishment.

While years of sanctions have not stopped Iran’s nuclear expansion, its domestic crisis will likely give Western powers room to increase pressure on Tehran.