Iran protests show regime that change is in the air

Iran protests show regime that change is in the air

Iran protests show regime that change is in the air
The daring burning of Qassem Soleimani’s statue served as yet another reminder that the Iranian people despise the regime and its officials. (AFP)
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The latest social and political developments in Iran indicate that the winds of change are blowing firmly against the regime.

For example, on Jan. 5, a giant statue of Qassem Soleimani was installed in the city of Shahr-e Kord. It was unveiled with much fanfare just ahead of the second anniversary of Soleimani’s elimination in a US drone strike. However, mere hours later, the statue was engulfed in flames after being set alight by dissidents, dealing a major blow to the state propaganda that portrays the former Quds Force commander as a “hero.”

Just a couple of days earlier, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi delivered a televised speech in which he promised revenge for Soleimani’s death. But the daring burning of the statue served as yet another reminder that the Iranian people despise the regime and its officials.

The incident was also an indicator of the opposition’s courage, rapid rise and increasing organizational prowess. As footage of the daring act was widely broadcast on social media and satellite TV channels, the regime was stunned.

That is why the supreme leader’s representative in the province where the statue was erected issued a fiery statement urging the participation of regime adherents in a “memorial” to express “hatred and disgust” for those who committed the act. It is clear that the ensuing procession was carefully stage-managed by regime authorities.

Tehran scrambled to reclaim control of Soleimani’s legacy by staging the first of its stage-managed rallies. But the propaganda campaign appears to have failed miserably, especially as the people of Iran recognize who Soleimani really was.

Over the past four years alone, Iran has witnessed several nationwide uprisings and many smaller local protests. During the nationwide November 2019 uprising, the regime brutally gunned down approximately 1,500 peaceful protesters in a matter of a few days. Thereafter, the judiciary, then led by Raisi, undertook a months-long campaign of arrests and systematic torture.

However, this crackdown did not stop tens of thousands of Iranian citizens from taking to the streets in January 2020 after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a commercial airliner in the skies above Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. During these protests, social media exploded with countless videos of protesters chanting against the IRGC and burning a number of billboards featuring Soleimani’s image.

The Iranian people also overwhelmingly boycotted the regime’s 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential elections in order to protest the Islamic Republic.

The daring burning of Soleimani’s statue served as yet another reminder that the Iranian people despise the regime and its officials

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Over the last two years, the scope of anti-regime activities has increased thanks to the political opposition’s so-called Resistance Units, with notable upsurges around the time of Raisi’s inauguration and the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. The burning of the statue came after several other images of Soleimani were also burned or taken down by activists over the course of several weeks. Such acts of resistance have been hugely popular in Iran and on social media.

In the wake of similar incidents, the Iranian regime usually blames the National Council of Resistance of Iran. For example, at the height of a recent uprising, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in a speech that the oppositional group had “planned for months” to popularize anti-regime slogans such as “death to the dictator,” and to facilitate simultaneous protests in many cities and towns. This admission stood in stark contrast to the regime’s decades-long propaganda that the NCRI was a marginal movement, lacking a popular base and incapable of mounting a genuine challenge to the mullahs’ hold on power.

At the same time, anyone suspected of even mildly sympathizing with the group risks arrest, torture and even execution. Over the years, numerous activists have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms or executed for distributing its literature or offering financial contributions to the organization. Iranian officials are consistently sounding alarms regarding the NCRI’s growth and increasing popularity. As social unrest deepens, those concerns have been amplified. The authorities have displayed concerns about the rapid spread, politicization and organization of the protests in Iran and blamed the group. The NCRI, which is considered to be the most organized and powerful Iranian opposition movement, has sought democratic change in the country for the past four decades.

In conclusion, the latest facts on the ground in Iran signal that change is in the air. This carries an important message for the international community in 2022: The clock is ticking for the ruling theocracy and the ayatollahs are facing a growing challenge at home. This promises a bright future for a democratic and non-nuclear Iran.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

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