Starting Thursday, anti-government rallies beginning in Mashhad, northeast Iran, are mushrooming in several major cities of Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz, and dozens of towns across the country.
These rallies are in sharp contrast to the 2009 episode where former U.S. president Barack Obama refused to support the massive demands for sweeping change.
At the time, the controversial reelection of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked nationwide rallies with protesters demanding their votes back. Today, however, beginning with economic demands as people are reaching the very limits of their tolerance, demonstrators are seeking economic necessities and escalating their expectations to fundamental regime change.
“Death to Khamenei”
Large crowds are turning out in Kermanshah, in the west, in Rasht, in the north, in Isfahan, southcentral Iran, and Hamadan and elsewhere.
Social media posts are providing up-to-date reports of rallies spiraling into a general outcry against the ruling elite and policies inside the country and abroad.
Protesters are seen chanting, “Death to Khamenei,” in a clear reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and targeting the very pillars of this regime.
Slogans are showing popular resentment giving way to escalating rage, exposing the regime’s vulnerability far beyond the scope of many Western analysts’ prior arguments.
Interesting is the fact that protesters are defying all odds and standing up for their rights despite warnings and repressive measures by state security forces.
“Death to Rouhani,” “Clerics Must Go” are continuing the earlier chants of “Leave Syria, start thinking about us” and “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, my life for Iran.”
This shows the scope of the people’s abhorrence of the ruling state’s policies, as Tehran allocates billions of dollars in revenue from oil and gas exports to belligerence abroad, including propping the Assad regime in Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Shiite militias in Iraq and the Houthis of Yemen.
Witnessing no change in their basic living standards following the nuclear deal highly boasted by the Obama administration with Iran, people across the country are showing their demands must receive the regime’s acknowledging.
The Iranian regime no longer enjoys the benefits of a policy based appeasement and rapprochement pioneered by the Obama White House. While the Iranian people remember the international community’s failure to support their cries for freedom back in 2009, what started with support from Senator Tom Cotton is avalanching into a flowing stream of support.
The Trump administration, understanding the negative impact of engagement with the Iranian regime, is pursuing a policy of firm action and resolve vis-à-vis Tehran, and now standing alongside the Iranian people’s demand for change.
Two other factors differing in Iran from 2009 is the major rift within the regime’s ruling apparatus and the spreading nature of these protests in cities and towns throughout Iran, encouraging protesters to overcome prior fears of state crackdown.
In 2009 Khamenei placed his weight behind Ahmadinejad, an element of his own apparatus, making him capable of directing a massive crackdown and quelling the protesters’ demands.
As we step into 2018, the case is far different. Khamenei realizes the harsh reality of major rifts crippling his regime’s ability domestically and abroad. The Iranian regime understands very well how opening fire on protesters will fuel the protests’ flames, and yet taking no such action will allow the nationwide uprising to expand.
At first, understanding the price of opening fire on protesters, officials were seen resorting to various practices such as dispatching hordes of security forces on foot and on motorcycles, threatening to take action.
Posts on social media, however, indicate low morale amongst security forces unwilling to open fire upon protesters even if ordered to do so.
A member of the regime’s ultraconservative Basij, a paramilitary unit of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is seen placing down his baton and taking off his jacket, leaving a not indicating how he is no longer willing to attack his fellow countrymen.
Yet scene from various cities show protesters attacking police stations, tipping over police vehicles and setting police motorcycles ablaze.
Reports from Ahvaz in southwest Iran show how protesters are braving all odds and showing their anger against the regime’s forces.
The people in Iran are also threatening to take up arms in response to any crackdown by the regime. This truck driver vividly explains the people have and are ready to use guns and bullets to attack anyone attacking the protesters.
Reports on Saturday night from Lorestan province indicate security forces opened fire on protesters and killed up to six individuals. Posts show protesters, continuing their rallies even after sunset, carrying the bodies of two apparently dead individuals most likely shot by regime’s authorities.
The road ahead
Unfortunately, the international community, and especially the West, are continuing to pursue short-term economic gains at the cost of the Iranian people’s very lives.
Such parties seek ties with the so-called Iranian moderates from the times of former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, and now Rouhani. This is only rendering a deteriorating situation for the Iranian people, with executions skyrocket to at least 3,500 during Rouhani’s tenure, and Western parties failing to reach their desired goals.
Protesters are currently responding to such a myth of moderates inside the regime, chanting, “Reformists, Principalists, End of Story.”
Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi is hailing the protests, saying in part “The ongoing protests in different cities against the regime reveal the explosive state of Iranian society and the people’s desire for regime change.”
The international community should now adopt and meaningfully impose crippling economic sanctions targeting key regime institutions and cut Tehran’s remaining lifelines, in particular the IRGC. It should also make it clear that the Iranian regime will face dire consequences in the case of a violent quelling of protests.
The international community should also formally recognize the Iranian people’s demand for regime change and the legitimacy of the organized resistance pursuing this objective.