The clerical regime in Iran has predictably unleashed another wave of terror against the citizenry since the outburst of the latest string of mass protests beginning on 14 February. The protests are an extension of earlier uprisings in 2009 which called for democratic change in Iran. But this time, both the popular expression of discontent and the regime’s atrocious response, including mass arbitrary arrests and executions, are playing out against a new regional dynamic characterised by louder voices for freedom.
Last week, the firebrand Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticised events in Libya, saying, “It is unimaginable that someone is killing his citizens … This is unacceptable. Let the people speak, be free, decide to express their will.”
The jaw-dropping ease with which Ahmadinejad cavalierly pretends to show concern for the killing of citizens in another country while blood drips from his own hands, is, of course, simply revolting. But it is also a clue into the regime’s inherent dishonesty, evident in its nuclear arms program, among other places. This is a stern reminder that this regime should never be trusted or negotiated with.
As Ahmadinejad spoke on Wednesday, the regime’s forces continued to raid houses, repress protests, jail activists, pressure families of killed protestors, torture dissidents, and impose an information blackout. Yet chants of “death to the dictator” were as strong as ever.
According to opposition sources, the regime prepared for the 14 February protests by deploying at least 46,000 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Tehran alone. Some 4,000 additional State Security Forces (SSF) poured into the capital from other towns. And 1,500 mercenaries from the Lebanese Hezbollah were also added to the armed hooligans casting their ominous shadow over Tehran.
The hard power was compounded by other means like the installation of hundreds of panoramic cameras to monitor activities in the streets, eavesdropping on phone conversations and scrutinising Internet activity, and jamming satellite signals.
Despite the overwhelming show of force, however, young people, women, workers, teachers, and other social groups poured into the streets to demand the overthrow of the clerical dictatorship.
The bravery of protestors, publicly praised by world leaders, brought to light several important facts.
First, the hegemony of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been badly dented. This was most recently evidenced during Khamenei’s six trips in three months to Qom to garner support among religious leaders, but to no avail.
As a consequence of the erosion of Khamenei’s authority, the already extensive rifts within the clerical regime are bound to deepen, further weakening the entire ruling establishment.
Second, the regime had tried its utmost to terrorise the population in January by executing close to three people a day on average, many in public. The protests showed that the Iranian people were not cowed by even the most barbaric acts committed by fearful rulers.
And, third, the regime’s deceitful propaganda, including its disastrous failure to bring its demoralised forces into the streets on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, has been rendered more ineffective than ever.
As a result, the protest movement will further radicalise in the course of its evolution, while the regime’s power – both real and perceived – will evaporate. Indeed, the balance of power in Iran has shifted in the people’s favour, mirroring the general tide in the Middle East.
EU and US current policy vis-à-vis Iran is outdated, hopeless, and dangerously counterproductive. It should be recalibrated with speed and resolve.
The US and the international community must voice strong support for the Iranian people and their opposition movement. The clock is ticking almost as fast as it did in Tunisia and Egypt.