Debate over the Iran nuclear agreement notwithstanding, the international community should be ready to turn its attention to the larger question of what the correct policy is for dealing with Iran in general. While there is growing consensus on the both sides of the Atlantic about the need to take the worsening threat of the Iranian regime head on, there is some disagreement about the right way to do it, and about the threat of escalating tensions.
The ayatollahs’ Achilles heel is inside of Iran. The Iranian equation changed for good after the massive popular uprisings that shook the regime to the core in late December and January when Iranians demonstrated in more than 140 cities and towns throughout Iran. By chanting slogans like “death to Khamenei” and “death to Rouhani”, they vividly and unequivocally manifested their desire for regime change. By chanting slogans like ““hardliner, reformer, the game is now over”, they rejected the notion of any moderation inside of the clerical regime.
The protests also debunked the claims that the nuclear agreement helped the Iranian people and their welfare. The Iranian economy is in total shambles. The national currency has devalued more than 50 percent compared to May 2017, and this unprecedented downhill trend shows no signs of stopping.
Corruption and nepotism are rampant as well. A number of financial intuitions that were linked to the IRGC and were approved by the Central Bank have embezzled huge sums of money and have shut down, causing almost daily protests by depositors who chant slogans against the regime in its entirety. And of course the regime cannot respond to their needs since there is no money.
The economic windfall from the nuclear agreement has been plundered by the ayatollahs or by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or used for backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad or financing terror groups like Hezbollah. Meanwhile, hardly a day goes by without labor protests in various cities. The Iranian state press is riddled with stories of workers and civil servants who are striking or protesting after not being paid for as long as 23 months.
The situation is so precarious that a very senior ayatollah, Javadi Amoli, while talking with the Minister of Labor in Qom on April 27, described those in charge of the regime’s economic affairs as incompetent and told the officials of the regime that “if there will be an uprising, all of us will be thrown into the sea.” He added, “Of course many of the officials fled, many have created a safe place to escape to but we have nowhere to escape to.”
On April 29, President Rouhani said, “A number of our cabinet Ministers are expressing pessimism and disappointment since the beginning of the New Year (March 20) and their remarks are pessimistic.”
Chants like “let Syria go, think about us” and “the enemy is here, but liars say it is the US” are clear signs that the regime’s key policies have been totally rejected and that the regime’s propaganda has become totally ineffective. The people now clearly and vividly reject it in its entirety.
On January 2, Rouhani spoke by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron and complained that the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran-PMOI/MEK, was causing unrest in Iran. The PMOI is the main constituent of the National Council of Resistance of Iran-NCRI, and Rouhani asked his French counterpart to restrict the activities of the group, which is headquartered outside Paris. On January 9, Ali Khamenei, the regime’s leader, underscored that the PMOI was the main force behind the recent uprising and had planned it for months in advance. Khamenei’s startling admission and Rouhani’s desperate appeal show that the PMOI poses a growing threat to the clerical regime.
Following the December-January uprising, NCRI’s President Elect, Maryam Rajavi declared that the protests will continue and the movement will march forward until the overthrow of the clerical regime. Ever since, there have been major protests and acts of defiance in Tehran, in Isfahan, in Ahvaz, and in Kazeroon. In each of these places the unrest continued for several days despite heavy crackdowns by the regime, then erupted in another location.
As Maryam Rajavi pointed out in her remarks to the convention of Iranian Americans in Washington D.C. on May 5: “The Iranian people, who have taken part in hundreds of protests and uprisings since December, seek the overthrow of the clerical regime in its entirety. They are calling on the international community, in particular the West, to support their uprising for the overthrow of the Iranian regime. We emphatically urge the world community not to remain silent vis-à-vis the persistent crimes perpetrated by a regime which holds the world record for per capita executions. We call on them, by adopting punitive measures, to compel the mullahs to release those arrested in the recent uprisings and protests, including hundreds of our Arab compatriots in Khuzestan Province and a large number of Kurds in western Iran, and to end the barbaric persecution of farmers in Isfahan.”
In a nutshell, a new factor has come into Iranian politics: the people’s factor. This is the mullahs’ nightmare and their Achilles heel, and it will prove to be a game changer.
On June 30, Iranians and their international supporters will gather in a major event in Paris, Free Iran 2018, in support of the popular uprising and the prospect of regime change by the Iranian people. Prominent American and European politicians from both sides of the aisle are expected to take part. Given all the concerns regarding Iran and its nefarious conduct and in light of all the big changes in Iran, the message of this gathering is more important than ever. The West in general and Washington in particular will be wise to pay close attention to the event and the message that the Iranian expatriates will be echoing on behalf of their compatriots at home. They will not be seeking money, troops or weapons from the West. They want a firm policy that holds the ayatollahs accountable and sides with the Iranians and their resistance in their quest to wrest their country from the grip of the theocratic dictatorship.
A free, democratic and a non-nuclear Iran is a goal everyone can agree upon. As Iranian society faces constant turmoil and the ayatollahs confront escalating social and economic problems at home and escalating regional and international isolation, it seems the prospects have never been any brighter for regime change.
Shahin Gobadi is a member of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Parliament in exile of the Iranian Resistance.