*Over the last week, Iran has witnessed numerous protests and demonstrations, with their epicenter being the city of Mashhad in the Northeast of Iran. Mashhad is considered as a major city, because of its religious symbolism, as it is where the shrine of Imam Reza, the 8th imam, is situated. The city is fully loyal to the Supreme Leader, Khamenei and most of its key posts are monopolized by Khamenei’s loyalists. Also, Khamenei is linked with, Ahmad Almolhoda, Iran’s famous Friday preacher, and various revolutionary and charitable institutions in the city.*
The Mashhad protests sparked protests across Iran, but when investigated, they are quite different from the protests ignited post-1979 revolution. The demonstrations we witness today, are not driven purely by political demands, such as freedom, as we saw in the demonstrations held by the students of Tehran University, 1999, which were suppressed within four days. They are also different from, the demonstrations that unfolded in 2009 when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidential elections at the expense of the so-called “reformist movement” candidates, led by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. The demonstrators chanted, political slogans, such as, “Where’s my vote? as they believed the elections had been rigged. When analyzed, both the demonstrations (1999 & 2009) were comprised of students and those belonging to the middle class, and they emerged from the major cities that are known to have more political space compared to cities such as Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, and Shiraz.
The 2017 demonstrators were poor or completely destitute, demonstrating for purely livelihood reasons, such as poverty, unemployment, corruption, and hikes in fuel prices. In Mashhad, where nearly two million people live in shantytowns, Afghan immigrants are prohibited from education and medical treatment, however, their sons are being sent to fight for Iranian death squads in Syria and Iraq in exchange for economic compensation. After a few hours of the onset of protests in Mashhad, the protests sparked in Kermanshah a disaster-stricken city in Northwest Iran, which was hit by an earthquake about two months ago. The Iranian regime continues to neglect this city without any real financial support. Later on, the spark ignited protests in 60 Iranian towns and cities.
*Through observation, there were several crucial points in Iran’s protests:*
» Most of the demonstrators were from the working class, that poured into the streets, because of their economic rage. The nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions did not bring forth any noticeable change in chronic economic problems such as unemployment and inflations. Instead, the economic suffering has increased, with the government proposing a 2018 budget bill, which has austerity at is core, which will no doubt, make life much more miserable.
» The Iranian regime’s interference in neighboring countries and its support to militias, with total neglect for the Iranian interior, no doubt, has angered the Iranians. This was visible during the demonstrations when slogans were heard criticizing the Velayat-e Faqih illegitimate foreign policy.
» These demonstrations and protests seem spontaneous, without real leadership on the ground, unlike previous protests. The protests did not have core political objectives, such as wanting democracy, or wanting to instigate conflict between different political trends, however frustration and rage were visible with it being directed towards the whole regime, along with its different currents and trends.
» The belief that small towns, rural and lower classes in Iran are regime loyalists, has been obscured. In recent days, this class has been much more bolder and tougher in criticizing the Velayat-e Faqih regime than the educated or the middle class. They disparaged revolutionary fundamentalism, and for the first time they burnt many religious seminaries, attacked the IRGC headquarters and targeted institutions that carried Khomeini’s name.
» The demonstrators broke the fear barrier and surpassed all “red lines”. They chanted slogans that were not heard before, such as “Leave, Leave Khamenei,” “Death to Khamenei,” “We do not want the Islamic Republic,” and “Iran without the Shah has no value.” This boldness is indicative of how the Iranian people’s struggle is advancing and that the youth will not hesitate to restart from where these protests stop, meaning that the next stage will be worthy of monitoring.
» The foreign conspiracy trick has been whitewashed, as protesters clearly expressed that the problem is internal, not external. The Iranian regime can no longer hide behind the foreign conspiracy card, linking protesters to Israel, the United States or Saudi Arabia, as it has done in the past.
» The European countries remained silent for a long time, perhaps for purely economic reasons, as they try to benefit from Iran post-JCPOA. Regardless, the recent events will make investors think a million times before investing in Iran’s politically volatile market.
» The protests did not find any support from the reformist symbols. Their position towards the protests confirms the harmony between them and the conservatives, exposing the Iranian political reality, as the two parties struggle to serve the authoritarian regime that cannot be repaired from within.
» The protests revealed the bankruptcy of the regime. It revealed the failure of the so-called “resistance economy,” as successive Iranian governments have made Iranians guinea pigs for their ill-considered economic programmes, ever since Khomeini’s populist economic programme. The Iranian regimes immorality has been exposed, as it built its support on the back of the oppressed, but failed to provide for them when needed the most.
» The “modest” pro-regime protests that were used and the systematic means of thwarting the protests, highlighted the regime’s lack of mobilization and its diminishing legitimacy.
» These protests may represent the emergence of a new political movement from beyond the traditional political currents. A movement has emerged from reality that seems difficult to be removed soon since the regime insists on exporting the internal crisis and continuing its failed policies at home and abroad.
In conclusion, this wave of demonstrations, if retracted significantly, will not quickly disappear, and may develop in the upcoming days if the regime does not consider the demands of protesters, improve the standard of living and reconsider the size of support for its militias abroad
By Mohammed Alsulami