By: Dr. Saeid Sajadi
Iran’s mullahs have taken full advantage of many events, including the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 gulf war, the 2003 Iraq war, and the COVID pandemic, to prolong their criminal rule. Today, however, the regime has reached a dead-end on all strategic fronts. The regime is confronted with a crisis of legitimacy, a contracting power structure, an economy in shambles, a population yearning for freedom through uprisings, and last but not least, a vast network of rebellious resistance units targeting the regime’s manifestations of power at every opportunity.
It’s crucial to recognize that the uprisings of December 2017 and November 2019 were different from previous uprisings for several reasons:
(a) the radicalism of their slogans and demands,
(b) the primary involvement of the lower socio-economic sector of society- erroneously considered as the base to the regime in the past,
(c) the mind-boggling speed of their spread to hundreds of towns and cities within a day or two, and
(d) a much shorter span of time between the major uprisings. Khamenei had no choice but to specifically single out the resistance units- led by the MEK for leading the uprisings. This revelation was necessary in order to reorient his forces to the brunt of the threat.
The message of the 2017/2019 uprisings rapidly evolved. A popular slogan throughout Iran was: “hardliner, reformer: the game is now over.” This development put an end to the utility of the so-called reformist faction, which internally functioned as a safety valve to impede radicalization of the protest movement and externally served as the basis to the narrative justifying foreign powers’ appeasement of the Mullahs. The price tag to put an end to this “game,” however, was the lives of more than 1,500 protesters murdered by the regime’s forces in a matter of 48 hours during the 2019 uprising.
In January 2020, a wide protest movement erupted in opposition to the IRGC shooting down Flight 752. However, as the people were readying to increase the tempo and intensity of the uprisings, the COVID pandemic began. This provided the regime with breathing room for a period of time. Khamenei banned the import of effective vaccines for COVID, hoping that the massive mortality would immobilize the freedom-seeking society. However, despite the heavy death toll- now exceeding 425,000, the protest movement had already begun.
Throughout the years, the protest movement has taken advantage of the power struggle among various factions within the regime in order to wedge an opening for the people into the streets. As the so-called moderate/reformist faction became irrelevant inside Iran, Khamenei decided to discard them from the power structure, supposedly pursuing a unified regime, though a weaker one. He engineered the selection of Raisi as the president of criminals, hoping to improve the odds for successful suppression of the uprisings- waiting around the corner.
For the job description Khamenei has in mind, Raisi is definitely overqualified. Raisi was instrumental in carrying out the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners- affiliates of PMOI/MEK – in 1988. The choice of Raisi clearly indicates that the regime regards the MEK as its existential threat. Through its actions, the mullahs’ regime has made it clear that: (a) the regime is in its last stage of existence, (b) the only existential threat to the regime is the protest movement and uprising, and (c) MEK leads the uprisings inside Iran.
The ruling regime is so weak and brittle in its entirety that it seeks any opportunity to project power and thus obtain the oxygen it needs to survive. Any show of weakness- e.g., in the region or during the nuclear talks would have a devastating effect on the morale of the regime’s repressive forces, which would open the flood-gates for the people to take over the streets.
An assertive Iran policy by the west could have tremendous ramifications. Firstly, such a policy safeguards Western citizens as well as their national interests and security against the most active state sponsor of terrorism. Secondly, this policy can act as a catalyst to speed up the process of regime change by the people of Iran- the only solution to the country’s problems.
It is, however, essential for the policymakers at Foggy Bottom to understand that the regime’s unwillingness and/or inability to change its behavior is not a sign of strength but rather is rooted in its utmost weakness and brittleness. Given this state of instability, one can safely argue that the West should now position itself for a drastic change in its Iran policy- adopting an assertive policy in support of human rights and the protest movement in Iran.
In light of the above, the U.S. should not miss the opportunity to condemn Raisi during the upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly for his instrumental role in the 1988 massacre as well as the suppression of recent uprisings. By calling for the prosecution of Raisi, the U.S. would position itself on the right side of history, next to the people of Iran, in support of freedom and democracy.
Dr. Saeid Sajadi has actively supported the movement for freedom and democracy in Iran for decades. He did all his undergraduate and graduate studies as well as professional training in the US. Dr. Sajadi is a practicing physician in the U.S., and he is currently studying International Relations at Harvard University.