Iran is experiencing a political earthquake. The fault lines are clear: on the one side, the theocratic regime and its suppressive forces; on the other, the Iranian people. At least two dozen cities across the country witnessed large-scale demonstrations on Saturday and Friday against a regime that has been sorely incapable of addressing the country's economic demands. There were protests in over 30 cites today and three people shot dead in Doroud as security forces opened fire.
“Death to dictator" is once again echoing among Iran's struggling population, mainly youth and women. For months, thousands of people have been protesting in various quarters, demanding justice for the plundering of their wealth by institutions tied to the "supreme leader" and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). However, the scale and political orientation of the December 28 and 29 protests were striking and remarkable.
"The people live like beggars / [Khamenei] lives like a God," thousands of demonstrators chanted in several towns on December 29.
One of the most interesting chants in Tehran’s protests today was “Reformists, Hardliner, game is over now,” reflecting the desire by Iranians for regime change.
On Thursday, Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, saw the spark of the protests. Several thousand people began their demonstrations by complaining about rising commodity prices (in some cases, food prices have seen a 20-30% hike in the last week alone). Quickly, however, the protests were reoriented toward the regime's senior officials, including president Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ali Khamenei: "Death to Rouhani," "Death to Khamenei," and "death to the dictator," the protestors chanted.
Then on Friday, the cities of Kermanshah, Shiraz, Rasht, Qom, Hamedan, Ahvaz, Isfahan, Zahedan, Qazvin, and Sari rose up, joined by a large number of smaller towns. There are several noteworthy characteristics about what has been reported thus far.
First, the political nature of the protests has been made clear from the gecko, albeit the underlying impetus was the economic situation and particularly the vast financial corruption permeating the regime.
Khamenei, as the main figure of the theocracy, has been a permanent fixture in the protestors' slogans. And, for example, protestors continue to call on the regime to "Free all political prisoners."
Second, the regime's main players were quick to point out that there is a leading opposition movement who can lead the protests toward their final destination: the regime's downfall.
During at least seven Friday prayer sessions across Iran, senior mullahs pointed the finger at the main opposition, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, as the main organizers of the rallies according to the Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA. The movement is believed to enjoy widespread support in Iran and organizes annual rallies in Paris that draw tens of thousands of Iranians from all over the world.In Mashhad, where protests began, Khamenei's representative, Ahmad Alamolhoda, displayed a hateful rant that was particularly vengeful and venomous toward the MEK, indicating a pronounced sense of fear in Tehran toward the movement. The senior-ranking mullah claimed that the MEK are "mercenaries of America" and their "leader is a woman" (as if this is a sin), referring to Maryam Rajavi. Mrs. Rajavi had on December 28 thanked protestors in Mashhad for their courage while calling on other cities to follow suit.
According to the regime's state-run media, Alamolhoda slammed the protestors by saying: "Now, the Imam of Age (the twelfth Shiite Imam), his representative [Khamenei] and all Hezbollah forces are angry that a woman, who is the leader of the MEK, would say thank you [to protestors]!"
The State Security and anti-riot forces were out in full force, using water canons to disperse crowds and drawing chants of "shame on you" from crowds who refused to give up any ground.
The fearlessness, courage and leading role of women has been exceptional. Dozens of video clips circulating on social media attest to this. In one case, a woman stands in front of security forces and shouts "Death to Khamenei," an offense that could carry the death penalty.
The third prominent characteristic of the recent rallies is that the protestors are clearly drawing a line between the Iranian people's desired policies and those being actually carried out by Tehran. These include the regime's disastrous regional policies, including its wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
In many cities, including Zahedan, young demonstrators, in a country where unemployment is running rampant, chanted: "Leave Syria alone, think about us instead."
Protestors in the city of Qom, the home of the main religious seminary, chanted "Death to Hezbollah." Others chanted "Forget Gaza, forget Lebanon; I'd give my life for Iran."
All political and economic indications are that protests in Iran will continue to grow. Just 8 years earlier, the people of Iran rose up in their millions against the dictatorship. The U.S. administration at the time stayed abhorrently silent, provoking people on the streets to chant, "Obama, Obama, are you with them [mullahs] or with us?" Washington did not offer support, enabling the mullahs to brutally crushed the demonstrations with immunity. The mullahs were even rewarded with a flawed nuclear deal and billions of dollars.
In a statement after the recent demonstrations, the U.S. State Department said, "On June 14, 2017, Secretary Tillerson testified to Congress that he supports 'those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know.' The Secretary today repeats his deep support for the Iranian people."
It is time for the Trump administration to go beyond words, however, and to actively reach out to the organized opposition, including the MEK, which has been the main source of nuclear and other intelligence on Iran.
President Trump should lend moral support to millions of Iranians who are paying the ultimate price to bring down a common enemy: the evil dictatorship in Iran that is bent on nuclear weapons and regional domination. They need us just as much as we need them.
Here are more videos from the latest in Iran protests:
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Harvard-educated, Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a world-renowned business strategist and advisor, a leading Iranian-American political scientist, president of the International American Council on the Middle East, and best-selling author. He serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review.
Dr. Rafizadeh is frequently invited to brief governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as speak, as a featured speaker, at security, business, diplomatic, and social events. He has been recipient of several fellowships and scholarships including from Oxford University, Annenberg, University of California Santa Barbara, Fulbright program, to name a few.
He is regularly quoted and invited to speak on national and international outlets including CNN, BBC World TV and Radio, ABC, Aljazeera English, Fox News, CTV, RT, CCTV America, Skynews, CTV, and France 24 International, to name a few. . He analyses have appeared on academic and non-academic publications including New York Times International, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The National. Aljazeera, The Daily Beast, The Nation, Jerusalem Post, The Economic Times, USA Today Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and Harvard International Review. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of several of languages including Persian and Arabic. He also speaks Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew. More at Harvard. And You can learn more about Dr. Rafizadeh on here. A version of this post was originally published on the Arab News.