Over the past week there has been a sharp increase in the number and ferocity of protests spreading across Iran as the Iranian people have decided to voice their deep displeasure over the worsening economy and plunging value in their currency.
Videos posted on social media purported to show rallies in the capital, Tehran, and in the cities of Karaj, Shiraz, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Qom, as Iranians brace for the return of U.S. sanctions following President Donald Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, according to Radio Free Europe.
Those protests also were marked by the first reported fatality of a protestor. On August 4, Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency reported that a man had been killed the night before during a protest in Karaj, about 50 kilometers west of Tehran, when someone fired a gun from a passing car.
The agency also reported that about 20 protesters in Karaj were detained by security forces.
Amateur videos sent to RFE/RL appeared to show dozens of protesters in the capital, Tehran, with some chanting “Death to Khamenei,” in a reference to top mullah Ali Khamenei.
Other demonstrators could be heard chanting, “Iranians, shout your demands.”
There were reports of a heavy police presence in the center of Tehran and in its northern neighborhoods. Another amateur video sent to RFE/RL appeared to show police confronting demonstrators in the city of Karaj.
The stepped-up brazenness of protestors included an attack on a Shiite seminary by protestors who threw rocks and bricks. Coupled with the chants directed at top regime leaders, these protests represent one of the most serious threats to the regime’s control in the Islamic state’s history.
In another sign these protests are atypical, eyewitnesses disclosed that the protests taking place in the city of Shahin Shahr, north of Isfaham, the provincial capital, were being initiated and led by women.
In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda, the witness, introduced briefly as Amin for security reasons, said, “Unrest in Shahin Shahr began on Thursday morning (August 2) when a limited crowd of people, composed mainly of women, nearly fifty ladies, started chanting completely peaceful slogans protesting economic hardship.”
The protests, according to Amin lasted for only 10-15 minutes and the crowd dispersed; but the members of basiji militia forces gradually appeared throughout the city.
“People were coming and going peacefully, as usual, when they saw themselves surrounded by the Special Unit forces who were riding motorbikes, carrying guns,” Amin noted, adding, “Soon, a heavy security atmosphere shrouded the city and made people restless.”
These regime militia forces drove their trademark motorcycles in an effort to disrupt the protests by shooting paintballs and beating protestors regardless of age or sex.
Predictably, members of the Iran lobby provided lip service for the protestors as exemplified by a statement by Jamal Abdi, the newly installed president of the National Iranian American Council, who could not resist a dig at the Trump administration for backing the Iranian people’s protests.
“Ultimately, like any other country, it is up to Iranians living in Iran to decide their country’s destiny. Outside countries or interests who seek to exploit the legitimate grievances of Iranians in order advance their own ulterior agendas only undermine the will of the Iranian people. As outside observers, we will continue our efforts to defend universal human rights and hold the Iranian government accountable to its international human rights obligations,” Abdi said.
It seems virtually impossible to Abdi and the rest of the Iran lobby that the Iranian people can genuinely be enraged by their own government and rather it must be the malign influence of some outside entity disturbing the tranquility of the Iranian regime. This is exactly the same narrative the regime officials are using in various speeches that have been publicized in the state media in Iran.
Only the NIAC seems to think protesting against the mullahs is undeserving of U.S. support.
The lack of effectiveness by the NIAC in supporting the mullahs can be linked not only to the change in presidential administrations, but also in the lack of enthusiasm amongst the Iranian diaspora in supporting initiatives that now only seem to benefit the mullahs and not the Iranian people.
Abdi seems to acknowledge this lack of political firepower in his inaugural message to supporters posted on the NIAC website:
“NIAC’s strength and influence comes from the community we serve. My top priority is to build our organization through our members. Over the weeks and months ahead, we will be rolling out new initiatives to deepen our connections with our members – and the level of input you have in shaping our organization – and to expand our membership and build our community.”
Abdi’s installation may change the messenger, but the tune is the same; attack any U.S. policy that threatens the hold of the mullahs.
Outgoing NIAC boss Trita Parsi kept up his end with an editorial in Middle East Eye attacking President Trump’s offer to meet with Hassan Rouhani without preconditions, anywhere, anytime.
He makes the absurdist claim that Iran could meet with the president in order to give him a PR victory and then leverage it to gain valuable concessions later, but the mullahs would not want to do that.
“To Tehran, concessions that would make America – and Trump – look good and give the impression of Iran submitting itself to America, even if only symbolically, are the costliest,” Parsi said. “Iran has long insisted that it would only negotiate with the US as an equal and with ‘mutual respect’.”
So, in Parsi’s mind, the mullahs, given the opportunity to get slam dunk concessions from the U.S. would instead say no in a fit of pique of perception.
Parsi should argue that the mullahs are also oppressing the Iranian people as part of a long-term mental health improvement program.