By: Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
ARAB NEWS, 12 January 2018-- In recent days, Iranian authorities declared an end to the uprising encompassing upward of 130 towns and cities over the course of roughly two weeks. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it had dispersed the most significant gatherings. But reports of ongoing protests and civil disobedience suggest that popular sentiment has not been as easy to suppress as Tehran would have us believe.
That sentiment began with outrage over economic hardships and wealth disparities between the regime and the people, then quickly transformed to explicit calls for the ouster of President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and for the wholesale dismantling of the system of clerical rule. Some onlookers were shocked by the much bolder slogans of this uprising than the one in 2009.
The regime is still struggling to pin down its narratives. Predictably, it blames the unrest on everything except its own incompetence and disregard for the interests of the Iranian public. Khamenei identified the leading Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), as a main contributor, doing his best to conceal its popular appeal by describing it as part of a “triangle of enemies” that had planned, financed and carried out the latest uprising.
He also identified “Americans and Zionists” as the masterminds behind protesters’ call for regime change. According to Khamenei, Arab adversaries put up the cash while the opposition acted as foot soldiers. Of course, there is no evidence of such a conspiracy.
He was trying to undercut the significance of domestic support for regime change, but his feeble effort did little to diminish the unprecedented admission that the MEK had provided many of the activists for a protest movement that spanned nearly the entire country.
Since its establishment in 1979, the regime’s modus operandi has been to blame foreign “enemies” for its domestic problems and the population’s dissatisfaction with it. Iranian authorities have also used this tactic to suppress domestic opposition. By blaming foreign powers, the regime avoids taking any responsibility or accountability.
Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of Iran’s clerical Guardian Council, said the uprising resulted from a relatively small faction of committed opponents, plus a much larger population of demonstrators who had been “deceived” into endorsing the cause.
It is hard to imagine how any person, let alone tens of thousands of them, could be deceived into taking to the streets and joining in chants of “death to the dictator.” People do not express support for regime change in their home country on a whim. And if the opposition was a leading voice in this uprising, it must be a leading voice for the Iranian people in general.
Khamenei has inadvertently admitted that there is a substantial threat to the regime’s future. This threat has been underscored by independent analysts, who say the violent crackdown on the uprising will only engender more protests down the line, especially if no serious measures are undertaken to address the people’s economic, political and social demands.
The regime has already acknowledged the arrest of 3,700 people. The judiciary has warned that death sentences may await those deemed responsible. But there is no sense that these actions will serve to uproot the opposition’s deep integration into Iranian society.
The world should thus expect to see another surge of protests, and with the opposition still in place as a major organizational force, it stands to reason that the demands will continue to escalate. Although authorities pay lip service to the people’s right to peacefully air their grievances, it is difficult to imagine they will find a sympathetic ear among the mullahs, who are torturing and killing protesters, according to Amnesty International.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.