by Jubin Katiraie
As the protests in Iran began, some compared them to those that occurred in 2009. However, these protests differ in in their message. The cause for the 2009 protests was a rift within the regime. Now, the people are demanding an end to the regime. On the streets this week slogans against velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical rule) and against the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as President, Hassan Rouhani were heard.
In her article for the Wall Street Journal, Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iranian opposition coalition based in Paris, writes that, “This dispels the myth, still harbored by some governments, that Iranians distinguish between moderates and hard-liners in Tehran. It also undercuts flawed arguments depicting a stable regime.”
Iran’s economy is in trouble, and many of its people live in poverty. Meanwhile, according to reports obtained by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Tehran spends upwards of $100 billion on the war in Syria. The people made their feelings clear about the regime spending this astronomical sum on regional meddling with chants of “Death to Hezbollah” and “Leave Syria, think about us instead.”
It has been reported that Iran’s official budget for this year allocates more than $26.8 billion to military and security affairs, in addition to the $27.5 billion in military spending from institutions controlled by Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Meanwhile, the budget for health care is $16.3 billion. Some speculate that the spontaneous outbreak of the protests began with the announcement of this budget. What is certain is that they were motivated by rising prices, economic ruin, widespread corruption and resentment toward the regime. Maryam Rajavi writes, “This systemic economic mismanagement has its roots in the political system, and it grows worse every day. That is why the demand for regime change surfaced almost immediately. It seems to be the only conceivable outcome.”
Nearly all of society has been represented in these current protests, including the middle class, the underprivileged, workers, students, women and young people, a contrast to the 2009 uprising that was led by the upper middle class, with university students at its core and Tehran as its center.
The current uprising is not tied to any of the regime’s internal factions or groupings. According to Mrs. Rajavi, “There are no illusions about reform or gradual change from within. A popular slogan in Tehran is “Hard-liners, reformers, the game is now over.”
What surprised many was how quickly the protesters’ slogans shifted from economic woes to rejection of the entire regime. The establishment was caught off guard, and while the IRGC declared victory over the protests on Sunday, Maryam Rajavi reiterates that this reflects their hopes rather than the reality on the ground.
In fact, the regime has now issued strong warnings against joining the leading opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Regime officials, Friday prayer leaders, and others across the country who ally with the regime are attempting to blame the MEK for the protests. The uprising and the rising popularity of the MEK and the National Council of Resistance of Iran are a major threat to the religious dictatorship.
The MEK reports extensive suppression to confront protesters, stating that the IRCG has killed at least 50 people and wounded hundreds. According to the MEK’s network across the country, at least 3,000 people were arrested by the end of the ninth day of protests. Security forces knock on people’s doors and warn them against attending demonstrations, according to MEK reports. “The net of suppression has been cast as wide as possible,” Mrs. Rajavi writes.
“In light of this brutal repression, the international community must not remain silent. The United Nations Security Council must adopt punitive measures against the regime’s crimes. This has long been the demand of the Iranian people and opposition. We must not forget that the perpetrators of the horrific 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners are still in power today, holding senior executive and judicial positions while engaging in the murder of protesters in the streets,” she added.
Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the Iranian opposition coalition that includes the MEK, concluded her article for WSJ with the wish that the difference between the 2009 protests and the recent uprising will be that “the latter succeeds in overthrowing the reviled theocracy in Iran. The people of Iran fervently hope so.”