May. 21, 2024 |

Quiet streets. Flying in foggy blizzard conditions through the mountains of northwest Iran, a helicopter carrying the country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, crashed on May 19, killing him along with Iran’s foreign minister and six other people. The country’s constitution requires a special election to replace Raisi within 50 days, leaving its clerical leadership with a tough choice: Either allow moderates to run—which it’s avoided in recent elections—or allow only conservative candidates, which would likely lead to dismal turnout among an increasingly disaffected population. A week before Raisi's death, only 8 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Tehran’s electoral districts during the second round of parliamentary elections.

Discontent with the Iranian regime has been rising for several years now—and came into view around the world during weeks of demonstrations across Iran after the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody in September 2022. Amini had been arrested and beaten for not wearing her hijab in accordance with the country’s “morality” laws. In the month following her death, Vali Nasr examined the threat growing popular opposition posed to the regime. Their scale, Nasr says, revealed the depth of dissatisfaction not only with the country’s rulers—but with some of the cultural foundations of the Islamic Republic itself.