Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.
I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.
The Big Issue
Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, seven years after the regional foes cut formal ties.
In a statement issued on March 10, Tehran and Riyadh pledged to reopen their embassies within two months and reactivate a security cooperation pact. The sides also confirmed their "respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs."
The deal was brokered by China, a major buyer of Iranian and Saudi oil. Beijing is also one of the few allies of Iran's clerical regime, which has come under mounting pressure from the West.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in 2016, when protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after Riyadh executed a revered Saudi Shi'ite cleric.
Since then, tensions between Shi'a-majority Iran and Saudi Arabia, a predominately Sunni Muslim kingdom, have soared. The two rivals have fought proxy wars across the Middle East, including in Yemen and Syria. Pro-Iranian armed groups have been blamed for drone and missile attacks on Saudi soil.
Why It Matters: If the agreement holds, it could help deescalate tensions in the Middle East, where the two longtime foes have competed for influence for decades.
For Iran, repairing relations with a regional foe would alleviate the growing pressure it has faced at home and abroad recently. The clerical regime has been rocked by months of anti-regime protests, the biggest challenge the authorities have faced in decades. Tehran has also been under mounting Western pressure over its supply of combat drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine.
"The Islamic republic is under significant pressure, both domestically and regionally," Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, told RFE/RL. "By stabilizing its relations with its Saudi rival, even if only partially, it provides it with some breathing space."
What's Next: It's unclear if the Iran-Saudi deal will lead to a lasting rapprochement between the countries.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan struck a cautious note, saying on March 13 that "agreeing to restore diplomatic ties does not mean we have reached a solution to all disputes between us."
Juneau of the University of Ottawa expressed doubts that there would be a "significant improvement" in Iran-Saudi ties, although he added that tensions might be "better managed." "The pattern in Saudi-Iranian relations in recent decades has been fairly consistent: Tension ebbs and flows, but never goes below a high floor," he said.
Stories You Might Have Missed
Women have played a major role in the antiestablishment protests in Iran. Even as the demonstrations have mostly subsided in recent weeks, a growing number of women are appearing in public without the mandatory hijab, in a direct challenge to the authorities. The brutal enforcement of the hijab law triggered the anti-regime protests that erupted in September.
Five Tehran girls were warned by the authorities after posting a dance video that went viral among Iranian social media users. It is illegal for women to dance in public in Iran, but the video has inspired others across the country to post similar videos with the same song, in a potentially dangerous act of open defiance toward the regime.
What We're Watching
Six members of Iran's exiled opposition, including the former crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, issued a charter for a transition to a new, secular democratic system that would be followed by free elections.
The Charter of Solidarity and Alliance for Freedom also called for international efforts to isolate Iran's theocratic regime.
Why It Matters: The charter is among several proposals made by opposition figures and civil society groups inside and outside Iran that would transform or even replace the current theocratic system with a democracy.
The proposals for a post-Islamic republic system come amid growing calls for political change in Iran.
Last month, some 20 labor unions, student organizations, and civil society groups inside Iran published a joint charter. On March 8, a group of women's rights activists released a Women's Bill of Rights they said should form the basis of a new constitution once the regime is removed.
That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.
Until next time,
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