Force will not end Iran’s popular uprising

4. Iran Protests
(File photo: Jordan News)
4. Iran Protests

Osama Al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

-o In the last 43 years, since a popular uprising toppled the authoritarian rule of the shah in 1979, Iranians knew only two supreme rulers: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Under the Islamic Republic’s complex system of government, the supreme leader holds real power and his will supersedes that of the president and the legislature. This is the so-called Wilayat Al-Faqih, or guardianship of the Islamic jurist, and while Iran is a republic, in reality it is a theocracy where the clerics impose their way of life on the people.اضافة اعلان

This, in a nutshell, is the real driver behind Iran’s anti-regime protests — now entering their eighth week — triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police. Iranians are fed up with the autocratic, self-centered rule of the 83-year-old Khamenei and those around him.

What started as a backlash over the tragic death of Amini, mostly by young Iranian women, is now a potent nationwide uprising that shows no sign of subsiding any time soon.

The reaction of the regime has been expected: to use brutal force against peaceful protesters that include children. According to Iranian human rights activists, more than 400 protesters have been killed since September 16, including 60 children. Thousands have been arrested and few have been tried and sentenced to death.

The uprising has spread to minority regions such as Sistan and Baluchestan province, in the southeast, and the Iranian Kurdistan, in the northwest. Minorities in these provinces have long been marginalized and suffer from discrimination. But the protests have also spread to key cities, including the capital Tehran.

This time the protesters are not calling for reforms, as they did in the 2009-10 election protests, dubbed the Green Movement. They now want regime change and are openly attacking Khamenei and his dictatorial rule.

The regime has seen protests erupt in the past few years, mostly over worsening living conditions. Using force to stamp out such protests worked well in the past, but not this time. Students, professors, artists, truck drivers and even workers in the oil industry have waged strikes in solidarity with the protesters.
The fact is that this is a grassroots popular movement that has nothing to do with the West plotting against the regime. The regime’s real problem is with its own people, especially the young...
Having failed to crush the protests, the regime accused the West and Israel of plotting against the country. Khamenei himself called the protesters “ignorant” and “a bunch of mercenaries”. He, too, blames the West, saying that the enemy “hopes to turn the people against the Islamic Republic by psychological means, through the internet, money, and the mobilization of mercenaries”. When it comes to victims, Khamenei only mentions those killed from the Basij, a militant arm of IRGC, who have been sent to terrorize and hunt down the protesters.

The fact is that this is a grassroots popular movement that has nothing to do with the West plotting against the regime. The regime’s real problem is with its own people, especially the young; 60 percent of the 80 million people in Iran are below the age of 30. Like all youth, they want freedom, jobs and a decent living, something that the government has failed to deliver.

In a bid to find a peaceful way out, some key figures in the regime are suggesting that dialogue be initiated with key reformists. The name of former president Mohammad Khatami has been mentioned, among others. Leading such efforts is Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Gen. Ali Shamkhani. But it is unlikely that Khamenei and the hardliners around him will sanction such dialogue. It is not in the nature of Khamenei to make concessions. The hardliners believe that concessions will only boost the protesters, who will demand more.

But even with internet censorship and media blackout, Iranian youths are leaking footage of night protests that have reached the heart of the capital. It is clear that force will not end the uprising unless the regime resorts to mass killings. 

Decades of iron-fisted rule have emboldened the regime, which has isolated and banished even the most moderate and loyal of the so-called reformists.

And when the niece of the supreme leader, Farideh Moradkhani, is arrested for posting a video where she calls the government a “murderous and child-killing regime” and expresses support for the anti-government protests, one can appreciate the level of frustration and anger that is felt by the nation’s youth. It also underlines the fact that the regime has become detached from the people.

Still, that does not mean that the clerical institution that rules the country is about to fall. What is most likely to happen is that Khamenei will continue to deny that there is a problem, and will continue to ignore the advice of the likes of Shamkhani to talk to the reformists. For now, the regime’s only response will be to double down and unleash more force.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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