In November 2019, Iran saw the largest anti-establishment protests since the 1979 revolution, sparked by the tripling of fuel prices on November 15 and quickly becoming an admonishment of the regime as a whole, spreading to around 200 towns and cities.
The ruling system was terrified by this level of protest, something they’d not expected even though their previous biggest protest had begun less than two years earlier and related protests had plagued the country in the period in between.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered his security forces to do “whatever it takes” to stop the protests, which led to 1,500 peaceful protesters being shot in the streets in just a few days—figures obtained by the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI) and independently verified by Reuters.
The protests were led mostly by women and young people, which is not surprising given that Iranian women are the biggest victims of Iran’s ruling system and that the youth are more likely to support progressive change in Iran, even if they were born under the ayatollahs’ rule.
“A special mission was defined for women. They played a key role in both attacking the female Basij bases and in motivating the youth. No casualties were reported among them, yet their style of employing women was like the MEK women’s tactics,” wrote Javan daily affiliated to the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Most media outlets and officials admitted that the protests were well organized, with then-Security Commission spokesperson Seyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini even saying that the MEK trained people for this in the prior two years. While one MP said that the unrest reached over 500 cities.
Had the authorities not instituted their violent crackdown, the protests would have no doubt continued. The attempts to crush the protesters were described by some Iranian militiamen as similar to a major ground attack in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, while IRGC Basij commander Salar Abnoush described it as a “full-scale world war”.
But this brutal suppression did not have the effect the ayatollahs hoped for. In January, there was another protest over the downing of a passenger plane and it is likely that there would have been more over the following months had the coronavirus pandemic not hit.
All the signs indicate that the Iranian government is in its final phase because the ayatollahs are incapable of solving the Iranian people’s problems, so the Iranian people are not questioning what the authorities will do, but are preparing for the next opportunity to actualize fundamental changes.