Uprisings against Iranian ideology
Popular protests have once again swept across the Middle East, particularly in areas where Iran wields influence, including in Iran itself.
The Iranian protests that broke out in 2009 — the Green Movement — which began after former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second presidential term, came two years ahead of the so-called Arab Spring. Unfortunately, Western powers, especially the Obama administration, ignored these protests. As a result, they were given no political significance and the media turned a blind eye to the protests, and their bloody consequences, despite later lending heavy support to the Arab revolutions. Tehran, too, expressed its full support for the Arab uprisings, which broke out less than two years after crushing its own protests.
Today, major world powers and many in the media are once again adopting an ambiguous and position toward domestic uprisings in Iran.
They can rightly be viewed as a continuation and intensification of already widespread discontent. The government’s decision to triple gasoline prices, despite earlier promises by President Hassan Rouhani not to, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, igniting cross-sectarian protests that have outdone any that have gone before. The hike makes it clear that US sanctions have exhausted the regime’s coffers, prompting it to generate revenues from its own people.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has insisted that the price hikes came at the government’s behest and that it is now up to it to deal with the demonstrations. But the government’s refusal to abandon the price increases and the brutal use of violence to crush the protests must have been approved by the ayatollah, with the regime expecting to collect around $16 billion in additional income from the price rises.
Rouhani has pledged to “pay compensation for those impacted by the increases of gasoline prices,” and the government has announced that it will transfer money to banks for the benefit of some parts of society. The monthly transfer to each individual, though, ranges from just $4 to $8.
Current indications suggest that the government will not back down on its decision to raise gasoline prices. Officials have attempted to spin the protests, suggesting that the hike was in public interest. But it has also ordered internet services to be cut or impaired, with senior figures, including Khamenei, Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif issuing statements claiming the protests had ended to persuade protesters to return home.
Officials have also accused protesters of being paid stooges and agents of enemy states, claiming that their objective was to create instability. According to the regime’s Young Journalists Club (YJC) agency, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Reza Yazdi, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Tehran, warned on Thursday: “Some in Iran and overseas are trying to make Tehran like Baghdad and Beirut.”
Dual nationals in some Iranian cities have reportedly been arrested for receiving training from foreign intelligence services to spread chaos. Sophisticated equipment for espionage has also, supposedly, been discovered, all revealed with the intention to deny demonstrators legitimacy and credibility, justifying violence against them. Despite all these efforts, though, the protests continue.
An expansionist colonialist project such as Tehran’s cannot succeed, especially when set against the backdrop of a modernizing, tolerant world.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Regardless of their trajectory, these protests, and those in Iraq and Lebanon, are further evidence of widespread anger at Iranian policies, highlighted by recently leaked documents published by The New York Times showing the scale of Tehran’s meddling in Baghdad’s affairs. The fact that the protests in Lebanon have even reached the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hezbollah’s loyalist heartlands, shows the total rejection of the fundamentalist sectarian ideology that emerged in 1979 with the Khomeinist regime.
The only way to successfully resolve them is to eradicate this ideology, which brainwashes its adherents, leading them to neglect contemporary problems in favor of planning for an apocalyptic future. It is ironic that were the venerated figure of the Mahdi to reappear, he would likely be the first to disavow this hateful creed and its adherents.
The people of the region have reached a breaking point. They are tired of repression, fundamentalism and sectarian hate. They want to be on par with the civilized world, no more, no less. It is essential at times like these simply to invoke common sense, and that says that Iran’s regime has nothing to export but weapons, extremism and sectarian militias which spread despair wherever they go.
An expansionist colonialist project such as Tehran’s cannot succeed, especially when set against the backdrop of a modernizing, tolerant world. When even Iran’s own cities and people rise up against it, there can be no other conclusion.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is an expert in Iranian affairs. He received his doctorate from Leiden University in 2014. He is the founder and chairman of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies.