Iranian regime’s officials have been warning one another for years about the potential for a new revolution in the country. They may not express it in quite those terms, but their anxiety about an expanding Resistance movement has been clear at least since January 2018, when Iran was rocked by the most significant anti-regime uprising since 2009.
In fact, the 2018 uprising was arguably even more significant. Whereas the sheer size of 2009 demonstrations in the capital city of Tehran was virtually unprecedented, the same can be said of the sheer breadth of the 2018 uprising. It encompassed approximately 150 cities and towns, including some whose poor, rural residents were widely presented by the regime as its base of support.
Furthermore, while the 2009 uprising began after the sham presidential elections and it was due to the raft at the top of the regime, the 2018 uprising featured a much farther-reaching anti-regime tone. It was defined by chants such as “death to the dictator,” and “reformists, hardliners: the game is over.” These left little question about the popular disregard for both factions of mainstream Iranian politics, or about the people’s appetite for regime change.
People demanded answers from a regime that had long refused to address people’s grievances since 1979. And while the uprising was at its height in January 2018, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei settled on an explanation that involved the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK). MEK, started opposing the theocratic regime since 1979, and Tehran attempted to destroy it through multiple means including a massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
Parallel to massacring MEK members and supporters, the regime started a demonizing campaign of the MEK, to suggest that it had been all but destroyed, leaving something marginal in its wake which would present no real threat to the mullahs’ hold on power. That propaganda lasted for decades, until in January 2018, Khamenei acknowledged that the MEK had played a major role in planning and organizing dozens of simultaneous protests.
This would be acknowledged two years later in a report by one of the regime’s think tanks regarding Iran’s coronavirus pandemic and the threat of further popular unrest. It noted that public trust in state media had declined to record low levels as more and more Iranians have come to rely on social media and tools for circumventing the regime’s online censorship, so that they could access more and more information from independent and foreign sources.
This process helped to guarantee that Khamenei’s speech in 2018 would have essentially the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of dismissing the uprising because of its association with the MEK, many people took the rapid spread and high-level organization of the uprising as a sign that the MEK well positioned to present a serious challenge to the theocratic dictatorship.
Since then, more and more people have rallied to the side of the MEK, resulting in an outpouring of warnings from Iranian officials, the likes of which has not been seen since before the 1988 massacre. This was certainly the opposite of what Khamenei intended it was quite impossible to reverse course. Now it is abundantly clear that persistent unrest throughout Iranian society is a sign of conflict between the regime and the organized Resistance.
After all, the January 2018 uprising was only the start of a movement that has endured much more strongly than the 2009 uprising, giving rise to four subsequent uprisings including one in November 2019 that encompassed a staggering 200 cities and towns.
That nationwide protest, now the most significant in modern Iranian history, is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary. And even though the occasion will also be a memorial for 1,500 peaceful protesters who were killed during the unrest, it can also be expected to inspire confidence among the Iranian regime’s dissidents. The killings in last November may have fractured the latest uprising, but they did little to halt the underlying unrest or to stop the warnings from Iranian officials regarding the potential for a new revolution.
Those killings were, above all else, an act of desperation from a regime that had been recognizably vulnerable for nearly two months leading up to that time. The vulnerability persists today, as Iranian lawmakers are beginning to acknowledge the depth of the public’s resentment and the absence of a detailed plan for reacting to it. MP Ahmad Hossein Falahi, for instance, said in an open session of the Iranian parliament on Sunday: “All the problems are being placed on the state and blamed on the Supreme Leader. [The regime has] created a restive atmosphere with the problems they have created. The society is in extremely poor conditions.”
Falahi went on to say that in the face of a worsening coronavirus epidemic and a raft of other problems, “No one is thinking about a solution.” But of course, the Iranian Resistance movement and its growing roster of international supporters are all think about a kind of solution. Their perspective was recently given voice by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the opposition president for a transitional Iranian government, in a recent online conference with Western lawmakers and foreign policy experts.
“Today, regime change in Iran is indispensable not only to freedom and democracy in Iran but also to the health of each and every individual in Iran and to the protection of their houses, cities and villages against natural disasters,” she said.
The regime change in Iran is well within reach. Khamenei’s 2018 speech arguably lent more credence to this sentiment than any other utterance in recent years. And the regime’s clear failure at stamping out dissent in response to the supreme leader’s warnings, is another testament to the mullahs’ regime fragile situation.
The international community must now support the Iranian people and their desire for regime change. In addition, the regime change in Iran would benefit the security interests of most nations. And as protests have made clear, the people of Iran are overwhelmingly convinced that their interests would benefit as well.