How Demographics Could Spark Change in Iran

How Demographics Could Spark Change in Iran

Ilan Berman

Security,

For years, Iran’s ruling ayatollahs have grappled with a profoundly vexing problem: how best to maintain the loyalty of the country’s growing (and increasingly unruly) population. The question isn’t strictly a political one. It is also made significantly more complicated by the age of the Islamic Republic’s population, which cuts against the regime in key ways. 

For years, Iran’s ruling ayatollahs have grappled with a profoundly vexing problem: how best to maintain the loyalty of the country’s growing (and increasingly unruly) population. The question isn’t strictly a political one. It is also made significantly more complicated by the age of the Islamic Republic’s population, which cuts against the regime in key ways. 

The statistics showcase the extent of the challenge confronting Iranian leaders. The countries of the Middle East are among the world’s most youthful, with a median age of just under 31. The Islamic Republic is more or less in line with this trend; the average age of its population, which now numbers approximately 84 million souls, is currently estimated to be 32 years old.

The regime’s top leadership, meanwhile, is much older – and increasingly infirm. The country’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is now 80 and has reportedly been battling prostate cancer for years (something which has fueled fevered speculation about possible successors to Iran’s top post). Khamenei, moreover, is hardly the only frail leader. A number of other top Iranian decisionmakers could soon pass from the political scene as well. Among them is Ahmad Jannati, the 92-year-old head of both the regime’s Assembly of Experts and its Council of Guardians, whose death could fundamentally upset the balance within both clerical institutions. Another is Mohammed Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, the powerful 85-year-old cleric who famously served as the spiritual guide for firebrand former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and who remains a key source of support for the country’s religious conservatives.

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