In recent days, authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran declared an end to the uprising encompassing upwards of 130 towns and cities over the course of roughly two weeks. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced it had dispersed the most significant gatherings, despite ongoing reports of protests and civil disobedience suggesting that the popular sentiment has not been as easy to suppress as Tehran would have us believe.
That sentiment began with outrage over economic hardships and wealth disparities between the regime and the people, then quickly transformed to explicit calls for the ouster of President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and for the wholesale dismantling of the system of clerical rule. Some onlookers were shocked by the much bolder slogans of this uprising, as compared with the 2009 Green Movement.
The regime’s authorities are still struggling to pin down their narratives. Predictably, they blame the unrest on everything except their own incompetence and disregard for the interests of the Iranian public.
The Supreme Leader bluntly identified the leading Iranian opposition group - the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) - as a main contributing factor. “They were prepared months ago. The media of the MEK admitted to this; they said, recently, that they were in contact with Americans some months ago, to carry out U.S.’ orders: to organize riots, meet with this or that person, find individuals inside the country to help them fan out to the people. And that it was they who initiated this,” admitted Khamenei, while at the same time, doing his best to conceal the MEK’s popular appeal by describing it as part of a “triangle of enemies” that had planned, financed, and carried out the latest uprising.
He identified “Americans and Zionists” as the masterminds behind protesters’ call for regime change. Arab adversaries supposedly put up the cash, while the MEK acted as foot soldiers.
There is, of course, no evidence of this conspiracy; however, the MEK was indeed a major domestic organizer of demonstrations and anti-government actions. Undeniably, this pro-democracy resistance group has had a constant and robust presence in the Iranian activist movement inside the country, despite the efforts by Tehran and some advocates of engaging the mullahs, to portray it as a cult with little membership or popular support in Iran. By acknowledging the widespread, on-the-ground presence of the MEK in the recent round of nationwide protests, Khamenei had no choice but to reverse this narrative, perhaps to alert his core supporters of the seriousness of the threat the MEK poses to the entire regime.
Of course, by subordinating its domestic activities to the supposed foreign planning and financing of the US and Saudi Arabia, the Supreme Leader sought to undercut the significance of the domestic endorsement for the MEK’s project of regime change. His feeble effort did little to diminish the unprecedented admission that the MEK had provided many of the activists for a protest movement that spanned nearly the entire Islamic Republic.
Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of Iran’s clerical Guardian Council, tried to downplay this admission without contradicting it directly. He called for quick prosecution of those most responsible for instigating and carrying out the uprising, while insisting that it had resulted from a relatively small faction of committed opponents, plus a much larger population of demonstrators who had been “deceived” into endorsing the cause.
It’s hard to imagine how any person, let alone tens of thousands of them, could be deceived into taking to the streets and joining in chants of “death to the dictator.” People do not express support for regime change in their home country on a whim. And if the MEK was a leading voice in this uprising, it must be a leading voice for the Iranian people in general.
By admitting to the first part of this syllogism, Khamenei has also admitted, no doubt begrudgingly, that there is a substantial threat to the future of the Iranian regime. This threat has been underscored by independent analysts who agree that the violent crackdown on the uprising will only engender more protests down the line, especially if no serious measures are undertaken to address the people’s economic, political, and social demands.
The regime has already acknowledged the arrest of 3,700 people. The Iranian judiciary has warned that death sentences may await those deemed responsible. But there is no sense that these actions will serve to uproot the MEK’s deep integration into Iranian society.
The world should thus expect to see another surge of protests. And with the MEK still in place as a major organizational force, it stands to reason that the demands will continue to escalate. Although authorities pay lip service to the people’s rights to peacefully air their grievances, it is difficult to imagine they will find a sympathetic ear among the mullahs, who are torturing and killing protesters as we speak.
In the words of the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, “So long as this regime is in power, the economic conditions of the people will only become worse. The only solution to the economic and social problems is to overthrow the clerical regime.”
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Harvard-educated, Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a world-renowned business strategist and advisor, a leading Iranian-American political scientist, president of the International American Council on the Middle East, and best-selling author. He serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review.
Dr. Rafizadeh is frequently invited to brief governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as speak, as a featured speaker, at security, business, diplomatic, and social events. He has been recipient of several fellowships and scholarships including from Oxford University, Annenberg, University of California Santa Barbara, Fulbright program, to name a few.
He is regularly quoted and invited to speak on national and international outlets including CNN, BBC World TV and Radio, ABC, Aljazeera English, Fox News, CTV, RT, CCTV America, Skynews, CTV, and France 24 International, to name a few. . He analyses have appeared on academic and non-academic publications including New York Times International, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The National. Aljazeera, The Daily Beast, The Nation, Jerusalem Post, The Economic Times, USA Today Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and Harvard International Review. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of several of languages including Persian and Arabic. He also speaks Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew. More at Harvard. And You can learn more about Dr. Rafizadeh on here. A version of this post was originally published on the Arab News.