On Sunday, May 17, 2020, the Iranian regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei held a video conference with a group of paramilitary Basij forces at the universities. In the conference, in an unprecedented and astonishing way, Khamenei spoke about the main issues that the regime is facing in Iran. Khamenei’s speech was focused on two main issues.
He lamented that he desired a young Hezbollah government, with the eliminated terrorist Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani being the role model, who in Khamenei’s words, despite being 60 years old, did what young people do. He said he always thinks about him. Subsequently, a member of the regime’s parliament called for Rouhani’s resignation.
However, since Khamenei has lost his clout, the following day the regime’s President Hassan Rouhani without directly mentioning Khamenei’s remarks suggested that for the country to survive, it needs several political parties to run the country intermittently.
Another aspect of Khamenei’s remarks was his expression of concern over the role and influence of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), among young people since the outset of the anti-monarchic revolution. Refusing to mention the MEK by name due to his fears of drawing more direct attention to the group, he talked about young Muslims who joined the ranks of a group with eclectic ideology (a term used by the regime to demonize the MEK) after the fall of the Shah and then fought against the regime. His concern, though expressed implicitly, was his fear of the new generation being attracted to the MEK.
On May 5, the Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili announced the arrest of two elite, award-winning students because of their links to the MEK. This caused a great deal of turmoil within the regime and political circles on the margins of the regime, which expressed concern about the youths’ desire to join the ranks of the MEK. The same day, the MEK announced the names and pictures of 18 others arrested and imprisoned by the regime for their political activities.
Since the January 2018 and November 2019 uprisings, and especially during the past months, state-run media outlets and regime officials have increasingly talked about the MEK and its extraordinary growth among the youth, especially students. But the acknowledgment of this fact by the supreme leader reflects its high importance and the danger the MEK imposes to the regime.
“Everyone should be careful about the enemy recruiting members of our young society…” Khamenei said. He also by referring to the explosive situation of the society, warned the Basij forces to be vigilant.
“You should not allow the enemy to take advantage of your protests. They are waiting to use any such opportunity… The enemy will portray your protests over whatever subject as dissent against the state, and provide such an image to their viewers… Be careful of those who take advantage of these protests to pursue their objectives against the state,” he said.
“Time and again I have suggested to various officials to go and visit our universities and talk with the students. However, in response they say whenever we do go, the students’ objectives are not to be informed about the country’s issues. In fact, they are interested in tainting the state’s image. That is why officials don’t pay visits to our universities. I am asking you, please, do not prevent an atmosphere of dialogue,” Khamenei said by referring to university students’ widespread hatred toward regime authorities.
He warned against the influence of the enemies on the youth and said: “Everyone has to pay attention to the fact that they are also working on our young people. They are also trying to take advantage of our youth. They are pursuing this objective and are planning for it.”
The following day, on May 18, Adyan News, a state-controlled website, discussed Khamenei’s concern and unveiled who the enemy is.
“This is the same enemy that in the past four decades, by hurling poisonous spears towards the establishment, has not missed even a second in its animosity towards the system …this is the same enemy that in the Spring of 1981, Khomeini, with his profound knowledge of them said ‘if I thought there was one in a thousand chance that you would relinquish from what you are doing, I would be willing to agree with you…’ …yes, this enemy is the MEK and its leader Masoud Rajavi.”
Khamenei further said: “Expand your ranks through new recruits. Don’t quickly push people off due to various disagreements… of course, I don’t mean the [MEK]. I mean try to recruit those who may have slightly different viewpoints. However, I don’t advise appeasing people who don’t believe in our revolution.”
Now the question is why Khamenei is compelled to acknowledge the realities that were taboo for years in the regime? Why is he so terrified and calling on his entire regime to mobilize against this enemy and be on high alert?
The answer is the extremely shaky and fragile conditions of the regime, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the widespread support for the MEK and their path among the youth.
A bankrupt economy, high rate of unemployment, poverty, regional and international isolation of the regime, growing crises within the regime, and explosive situation of the society combined with the growing tendency of the youth to support the MEK have forced Khamenei to point to the need for a “young Hezbollah government.”
But would these desparate initiatives of the regime’s supreme leader buy time for the regime or would they sink it more in the quagmire of overthrow?