Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 13/1/2018
The current protests in Iran are the most challenging to the country’s Islamic regime since the crushing of demonstrations against massive election-rigging in 2009, writes Hany Ghoraba
The Iranian authorities have managed to keep the country ruled with an iron fist for nearly four decades. The security apparatus along with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have managed to weed out all forms of dissent and nip all forms of rebellion in the bud.
Oppressive measures were taken in June 2009 when major protests across Iran were sparked as a result of controversial presidential election results that witnessed the victory of the conservative candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the reformist Mir-Hussein Mousavi. The elections, which witnessed massive rigging, inspired major protests across the country, and these were met with brutal force by the Iranian security forces backed by the paramilitary Basij troops that managed to crush the opposition. Countless Iranians were arrested, jailed or even killed by regime forces.
History repeated itself in December with the outbreak of new protests across Iran and backed by many in the Iranian Diaspora. The protests started in the city of Mashhad and then spread across the country. By 2 January, they had claimed the lives of 21 protesters as a result of the draconian measures taken by the Iranian authorities.
The reasons behind the new wave of protests have been cited as both economic and political. Despite the optimism that followed the partial lifting of the economic sanctions on Iran as a result of the nuclear deal in 2015 between Iran and six world powers, despair has prevailed as economic hardship has persisted during the rule of reformist president Hassan Rouhani. Four decades of oppressive practices by the regime have led many Iranians to revolt against the country’s theocratic regime, one of the most oppressive in the world and only rivalled by the likes of North Korea.
Unfettered by any international human rights obligations, Iranian Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that the “improper use” of social media was causing the violence and added that such behaviour would be “smashed.” The ministry’s draconian measures have expanded to block Internet access in many Iranian cities. There have been reports of independent media being restricted and even the official Iranian TV network of being banned from covering the protests.
While the uprising may come as a shock to the tyrannical regime, there is little evidence that it will attain its desired results despite its scope and intensity. The Iranian regime has been notorious in its violent modus operandi towards dissidents on any level. In the mentality of the regime, there is no act too base or too unethical that it will not carry out in order to maintain order and regime hierarchy.
Over four decades of control it has managed to instil fear in the hearts of most Iranians and install loyalists throughout the Iranian state. Moreover, years of radicalisation and blaming the West and the country’s Arab neighbours for all Iran’s troubles have been the methods of the mullahs’ regime in order to dissuade Iranians from participating in any such uprisings, which the regime will always paint as acts of treason and the results of plots by the West, thus annihilating the opposition.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the 2011 Arab Spring Revolutions, it is that the political future is not decided by the dreams of protesters but by other factors that come into play such as the political balance of power and who has the most firepower. These things often determine the victors. In this case, it’s the Iranian regime that has the firepower, which it never falters in using on civilians whenever the need arises.
However, this does not mean that the Iranian protests will entirely fail as they may place pressure on commanders in the armed forces to consider moving against the regime, even if the likelihood of that happening appears far-fetched at the moment since the protests are being dealt with by such heavy-handed methods. Even if some military commanders lean towards the protesters’ demands, it is unlikely that the rest of their peers will do so as almost all of them have been chosen based on their loyalty to the Islamic Revolution and particularly to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
International support for the protests has also been quite mild in comparison to those that took place during the Arab Spring. Many countries including the EU states have refrained from putting themselves on a collision course with the Iranian regime lest they lose the economic ties they have forged over recent years. Despite the support of US President Donald Trump for the uprising, the US administration has limited means of supporting the protests other than the political support that the protesters in Iran will be wary to accept lest they be labelled as traitors by the regime if they are seen as courting the Americans.
Observers of the Iranian uprising should therefore not hold their breath for positive results coming from Iran. However, political and moral support should be provided to dissidents fighting against one of the most oppressive regimes in modern history, in order to help them to continue their struggle for the freedom of a nation that deserves a lot better than the current assortment of mullahs and theocrats that governs it.
Originals post in Al Ahram Weekly :