Why Iran’s clerical dictators have nothing to celebrate
It was obvious that the system would soon crush the protesters with an iron fist, since their only investments in the past 39 years have been in expanding the secret intelligence services and the militias. The regime knows, however, that there is a different quality to the recent unrest from what has gone before. The protesters don’t just want reform from within, they want to topple the system.
The diversity of the protests and their natural spontaneous momentum have sparked fear in the regime. Hassan Rouhani, re-elected as president less than a year ago, promised during his campaign that there would be changes, both internal and international. In the eyes of the public, however, he has failed, and there is no belief that meaningful change can come.
Quite simply, ordinary Iranians have given up hope of reform and change. Their daily lives are full of frustrations, dealing with a crumbling economy, unemployment and frequent humiliation by the regime’s police, who spy on their private lives and monitor them in public.
The regime’s celebrations begin on Feb. 1 each year and continues for 10 days, to mark the time between Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran in 1979 and the revolution 10 days later. Speaking from Khomeini’s tomb as the celebrations began last week, Rouhani said: “If the system doesn’t hear the people’s voice of criticism and protest, it will be too late.”
He was, of course, speaking indirectly to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — but despite the president’s controversial remarks, many Iranians believe it is already too late. They have lost their trust and confidence in a system that has brought them nothing but institutional corruption, international isolation and economic ruin. They know that these problems stem from an ideological clerical establishment that does not represent the majority of Iranians, who never used to live in that way. The revolution was supposed to bring justice and freedom, not a clerical dictatorship that oppresses its own people.
Nearly four decades after the revolution, ordinary Iranians have lost their trust and confidence in a system that has brought them nothing but institutional corruption, international isolation and economic ruin.
The regime may now make some superficial changes, such as easing the rules on the compulsory hijab, or providing spaces in which people can peacefully protest and ask for change. None of these cosmetic improvements will satisfy the public, because they are not what the people want.
It is revealing to examine how most Iranians now view two opposition leaders who were popular at the time of the Green Movement in 2009 — Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who have been under house arrest for the past seven years. No one chanted their names during the recent protests. Despite their high profiles in 2009, no one suggested that they should lead the new movement for change. Karoubi published an open letter last week, bravely critical of the supreme leader, but the public paid little attention — because he and Mousavi are associated with the existing system.
The reality is that Iranians have passed the stage of hoping for any reform or meaningful change to the system. They are calling for a new secular system that provides opportunity for all Iranians, regardless of their ethnic background or religion, and they want to fight the corruption of the Islamic Republic.
For Rouhani, confronting the Revolutionary Guards, the secret services and the economic mafia embedded in the heart of the regime is difficult when his own government is so corrupt and hopeless. Iranians no longer want reform — they want regime change.
Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008).
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