Event Information

The Middle East Policy Council held its 110th Capitol Hill Conference virtually on Friday, October 21, 2022, on the topic “Iran.” The panelists addressed developments pertaining to Iranian domestic policy such as the ongoing demonstrations triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, as well as the future of Iran’s nuclear program.  

Ms. Jess Diez (Director of Educational Programs, Middle East Policy Council) introduced the event and Ambassador Richard J. Schmierer (former U.S. Ambassador to Oman; President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) offered a context briefing prior to leading the event moderation. The panelists were: Ms. Barbara Slavin (Director, Future of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council); Mr. Ali Alfoneh (Senior Fellow, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington); and Mr. Alex Vatanka (Director of Iran Program, Middle East Institute).  

Ambassador Schmierer outlined the issue of the divide between the Sunni and Shi’a sects of Islam in regard to Iran and the larger region, elaborating that this divergence has been exploited by regional leaders to further their policy objectives. He described the role of the Iranian Revolution in shaping domestic policy, such as clerical rule, and in driving rivalries with foreign powers, including the United States and Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Schmierer concluded by posing questions pertaining to Iran’s role as a Shi’a leader in and beyond its borders.  

Ms. Barbara Slavin compared her first visit to Iran in 1996 – in which she was tasked to report on women’s rights in the Islamic world – to the ongoing demonstrations against the recent killing of Mahsa Amini by Iran’s morality police. Over 300 Iranians have died amid these protests, though technological censorship has limited outside parties’ insight into the domestic sociopolitical crisis. Regarding Iranian foreign policy, Ms. Slavin cited that Iran and the United States have on occasion cooperated indirectly, such as during ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria; however, former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA) has led to deteriorating relations with the U.S. and increased Iranian attacks in the Middle East.  

Mr. Ali Alfoneh, uniquely, exposed the Islamic Republic’s juxtaposition in modernity, as the regime has extensively advanced literacy rates, urbanization, and information access, while simultaneously undermining social liberties, such as women’s dress. Since 1979, the regime has transformed society but not its own behavior. Regarding the effectiveness of sanctions against the regime, he asserted that the underprivileged classes are carrying this burden; this can be exemplified through the bread protests. Mr. Alfoneh concluded his remarks by forecasting that the Islamic Republic does not face immediate collapse, but may be on the verge of fundamental change into a military dictatorship with a lessened focus on religious policy.  

Mr. Alex Vatanka analyzed the Mahsa Amini protests in the context of recent Iranian demonstrations, which have affirmed the Islamic Republic’s enduring refusal to institute reform. The current movement, notably, is spearheaded by Generation Z, an emerging demographic raised in a sanctioned economy during the era of social media; the political activism of this younger generation indicates that protests will endure in Iran, even if this specific movement is suppressed. Mr. Vatanka also hypothesized on the future of Iranian leadership, including speculation that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may select his son as his successor. 

(Image: مقداد مددی)

Event Speakers


Amb. (ret.) Richard J. Schmierer, Moderator

Chairman of the Board and President, Middle East Policy Council

Former Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman



Ms. Barbara Slavin

Director, Future of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council


Mr. Ali Alfoneh

Senior Fellow, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington


Mr. Alex Vatanka

Director of Iran Program, Middle East Institute

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