Iranian regime must address the people’s grievances
I have long argued that the Iranian regime has suppressed the nation to such a level that it has become like a tinder-dry forest that could burst into flames at any moment. Any flashpoint could turn people’s frustrations and anger against the regime into a conflagration, meaning widespread protests that could ultimately endanger the ruling mullahs’ hold on power.
As long as the leaders do not address the grievances and demands of the people, Iranians have shown that they will not surrender.
What are the demands of the overwhelming majority of the people? First of all, they are fed up with the restrictive rules imposed by the ruling clerics, the “morality police” and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its paramilitary group, the Basij. Many people do not want to have a Shiite theocracy that imposes its extremist beliefs and teachings on society. In other words, the people’s targets are the ruling clerics and the establishment.
The youth in Iran have long been demonstrating their opposition to the regime’s restrictive religious laws and the morality police by defying the state’s rules, through various platforms in both the public and private spheres. Movements or actions, such as women taking off their headscarves in public or cutting their hair, can be interpreted as different modes of resistance against the theocratic establishment. As Amnesty International last week pointed out: “The bravery of protesters facing a spiraling deadly response by the Iranian security forces over the past days after the death of Mahsa Amini reveals the extent of outrage in Iran over abusive compulsory veiling laws, unlawful killings, and widespread repression.”
Secondly, the people want the government to respect their human rights and lives. Ordinary people have been playing a critical role in disclosing the abuses and violations committed by the government. The Iranian regime remains one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. And the situation has worsened under the hard-line administration of President Ebrahim Raisi, who was a member of the “death committee” that approved the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Whenever people pour into the streets to demand justice, the regime’s forces instigate a crackdown and suppress the people, especially when the protests go nationwide. The judiciary and the IRGC wield significant power and many protesters have been arrested and imprisoned without due process, while many others have been killed.
Whenever people pour into the streets to demand justice, the regime’s forces instigate a crackdown and suppress the people
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
In its statement last week, Amnesty International explained the situation and urged the international community to act. It stated: “Evidence gathered by the organization from the past two nights of fresh violence in 20 cities and 10 provinces across Iran points to a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters… The organization reiterated its calls for urgent global action, warning of the risk of further bloodshed amid a deliberately imposed internet blackout.”
A third critical demand is establishing a democratic system of governance. In other words, the political nature of people’s dissatisfaction with the Islamic Republic should not be disregarded. People are robustly opposing authoritarianism and despotism. That is why many have been risking their lives by chanting “Death to (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei,” which is punishable with the death penalty in Iran. Many others chant “Death to Raisi,” “Death to the Islamic Republic,” “Shame on you Khamenei, step down from power,” and “Death to the dictator.” People also risk their lives by tearing down banners depicting Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini.
Fourthly, many Iranians want the regime to spend the nation’s resources on the people, not proxies and militia and terror groups in the region. That is why some other chants that have become popular are: “Forget about Palestine, forget about Gaza, think about us,” “Death to Hezbollah,” and “Leave Syria alone, think about us instead.”
Finally, many people demand better living standards and economic equality. As Nastaran, an Iranian mother and teacher living in the capital Tehran, explained: “My salary is 3,000,000 toman a month (about $100), and the government just made the price of one loaf of bread 10,000 toman. Me and my children use five loaves of bread a day; this means that half of my salary will only go to the cost of bread. What about my rent, other food, the children’s schooling, medical expenses, electricity, gas, water bills? Every president has promised to improve the situation, but it keeps getting worse.”
The Iranian people have repeatedly shown that they will not surrender to the ruling clerics and authoritarianism. Unless the Iranian leaders address the people’s grievances, their hold on power will be left hanging by a thread.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh