By Heshmat Alavi
January 15, 2018
The future of Iran’s protests is on the minds of many as the fate of this strategically important state remains in limbo. This subject gains even more importance considering U.S. President Donald Trump’s upcoming Friday decision on the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
Iran’s state media claims the protests have come to an end, a result similar to that of 2009. Yet the world is witnessing how further cities and towns are expressing their abhorrence over the ruling elite.
This status quo is a struggle between the Iranian people literally fed up with this regime and a dictatorship weakened from domestic unrest, internal rifts and international pressures.
Escalating matters far beyond previous scenes of nationwide protests in 2009 and 1999 is the clear reference made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the party behind these rallies.
“As well as Washington and London, Khamenei blamed the violence on Israel, exiled dissident group People’s Mujahedin of Iran and ‘a wealthy government’ in the Gulf, a probable reference to Saudi Arabia,” according to Reuters.
Tehran pointing fingers at Washington, London, Israel and the Saudis is nothing new. Yet Khamenei mentioning the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is of quite significance, indicating the main source of his regime’s concerns.
This recent wave of protests is setting the grounds with new sets of rules and understandings.
1) The Iranian people no longer fear in expressing their true feelings, seen in the nationwide slogan of “Death to Khamenei.” Such a brave measure in the past would bear the potential of earning you a heavy prison term, if not a death sentence.
2) Unlike previous uprisings, these demonstrations are mushrooming across the country, reaching over 130 cities and towns, according to activists. Places less heard of before, such as Izeh, Dorud, Shahin Shahr and etc. are now seen leading the growing wave of protests. Brave demonstrators are threatening the regime’s very pillars to an extent that security forces have opened fire and killed dozens of protesters, arresting thousands, according to reports.
3) From the second day of this uprising protesters have shown their overcoming of prior fears through responding to the security forces’ attacks and quelling. State vehicles, motorcycles, makeshift police stations and other facilities are being set ablaze by protesters in response to the regime’s unbridled crackdown.
4) For years Iranian state media and its lobbies in the West have been claiming this entity enjoys vast popular support. Various campaigns, including a Twitter hashtag #بسيجي_نيستم (I’m not a Basiji), reveal the regime’s woes, as a growing number of Revolutionary Guards Basij paramilitary members are seen joining the protesters’ ranks.
5) Iran is showing a major vulnerability in its intolerance of social media platforms. The government is filtering the popular Telegram messaging app – said to have 40 million members in Iran – in yet another attempt to prevent protesters from joining force and the entire population from receiving unfiltered information from the outside world.
This makes the necessity of providing unrestricted access to the Iranian populace all the more vital.
6) In far contrast to 2009, the U.S. administration is powerfully standing alongside the Iranian people. This nation continues to suffer from the wounds of Obama extending his hand to Khamenei in their time of need. This time around, however, President Trump and senior administration officials are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s legitimate demands while placing Tehran on notice.
To some extent the Iranian people also enjoy the support of Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. More effort is necessary in this regard, as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is meeting today with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, and only discussing human rights violations in Iran and the recent protests very briefly.
7) Despite the detention of over 3,000 protesters, the Iranian people are not silent. As in Tehran, families and other protesters are seen demanding the release of political prisoners and recently detained demonstrators. On January 9th, facing escalating demands outside the notorious Evin Prison, authorities had no choice but to release four political prisoners. This has the potential of becoming a turning point in the regime’s crackdown against protesters.
8) Iran is known for four decades of human rights violations. The referral of this highly sensitive dossier to the United Nations Security Council in less than a week after the spark of these protests is a point of no return for Tehran, knowing the issue of human rights violations, restricting freedom of speech and internet access will no longer go unnoticed by the world’s highest decision making body.
9) Speaking of no return, the myth of Iran’s “reformist” and/or “moderate” currents is now considered an issue of the past. This hurdle, dating back to the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani and even the prime ministry of Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, has been preventing any serious discussion of regime change. The “reformist” illusion is now evaporating as protesters are heard chanting, “Reformist, principalists, end of story.”
10) Parallel to all other developments, the nature of many outlets and social media channels is surfacing, making it clear for all who is who, and their affiliations to the ruling regime. The past two weeks have been crucial in making it crystal clear for the Iranian people which outlet of any kind provides unbiased information, and which merely are beating the regime’s drums, according to activists.
11) In another reference to 2009, on December 30thof that year Tehran launched a pro-regime rally claiming of ending the “sedition”. Each year this day has been an opportunity for the regime to stage such marches and provide hand-picked images to the outside world, in its claiming of a vast social base. To this day Tehran has being failing to stage a pro-regime rally worthy of dubbing as a strong response to the nationwide protesters demanding regime change.
As a result, two weeks into the groundbreaking protests, this popular movement is proving it bears the capability of overcoming previously impossible odds. In response, the ruling regime has no solution to provide for the people’s valid demands, while lacking the will of resorting to all-out crackdown, fearing Iran’s powder-keg and a strong international response.
As a result, conditions are set for fundamental regime change in Iran. In these new circumstances, even the smallest protest rally bears the power of a massive demonstration by reigniting hope in people’s hearts and stretching the regime’s resources, making it incapable of delivering the response it needs to quell this ongoing uprising.
Change should be realized by the Iranian people. The U.S. and the international community, however, should provide unrestricted internet access to all Iranians and impose meaningful sanctions against the ruling regime, with the state radio and television IRIB network.