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Protests Across Iran Reflect Public Desire for Regime Change

Iran, 2017–2018 uprising
Iran, 2017–2018 uprising

There has been a number of protests and clashes between people and the regime’s security forces across Iran in recent months. These protests, mostly due to economic grievances show Iranian society’s restiveness.

On Thursday, villagers in Aleshtar, Lorestan province clashed with security forces. Conflicts erupted as locals were bloody cracked down when they were protesting the cutting down of their walnut trees by government forces as part of a plan to seize their lands. Lorestan’s attorney general admitted that several security forces have been wounded during the clashes and added that a dozen people have been arrested.

Just before the start of Iran’s calendar year in March, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran delivered a speech in which she said that recent social unrest in Iran is a sign that “the flame of the uprisings has risen from under the ashes of the coronavirus.” The subsequent month seemed to provide more and more support for that conclusion, while “Resistance Units” of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, circulated messages of support for various groups of protesters while also urging the public as a whole to boycott upcoming sham presidential elections which the clerical regime hopes to present to the world as a symbol of its legitimacy.

The Major Iran protests began in the final days of 2017 when a protest in the city of Mashhad rapidly spread to more than 100 cities and towns while also taking on anti-regime messaging. Another uprising encompassed nearly 200 localities in November 2019 and was met with extraordinary repressive measures that killed over 1,500 people. Nevertheless, large-scale protests emerged once again in January 2020, which suggests that the uprisings would have continued on past that point if not for the pandemic’s effects on public gatherings.

It would be wrong to say that Iran’s protest movement ever went completely during the previous calendar year. Scattered demonstrations continued to utilize the slogans that had been popularized during the previous uprisings. Among these were calls for the removal of both the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and its President Hassan Rouhani, as well as condemnations of both the “hardline” and the “reformist” of the regime. However, nothing past January 2020 rivaled the scale of the three mass protest movements.

This remains the case even today, but the latest outpourings of dissent point to escalating trends in the people’s disgust with the ruling theocracy, and thus also in their willingness to brave the dual risks of regime repression and still-worsening coronavirus infection in order to challenge the future of the theocratic dictatorship.

Mrs. Rajavi’s speech at the Nowruz holiday was delivered weeks after of clashes between local residents and the regime in the city of Saravan and the border province of Sistan and Baluchistan. After the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) opened fire on fuel porters whose only source of livelihood had been obstructed by this terrorist entity, members of the surrounding community came to their defense and expressed outrage at the regime’s repression by burning police buildings and chanting against the IRGC specifically.

While fuel porters in border regions are especially prone to social marginalization, the clashes in Saravan, reflect the much broader effects of corruption within a system where the IRGC control well over half of Iran’s gross domestic product through a network of commercial partners and front companies. This corruption has been the central focus of some of the most recent protest movements which are foretelling the prospects of another nationwide uprising.

Last week, citizens gathered in at least four major cities to bring renewed attention to the devastating financial losses that so many investors experienced at the hands of a government scheme to artificially inflate the Iranian stock market. Large-scale public investment was promoted by the regime’s leading officials, including Khamenei and Rouhani, shortly after the start of the Iranian year 1399, in March 2020. In his speech marking the Nowruz holiday, Khamenei had declared that the year’s top priority should be “boosting production,” and authorities soon settled on the stock market as a tool for accomplishing this goal during the harsh circumstances of the pandemic.

Of course, Khamenei’s economic message stood in stark contrast to international guidance regarding public health, and countless Iranians were forced to continue working for basic subsistence while the regime provided no financial assistance or interventions aimed at keeping them safe. Meanwhile, those who had enough money to invest were encouraged to part with that money on the promise of a payout later in the year, but once the stock market was flooded with cash, the regime’s entities withdrew and the market crashed, further shrinking the already scant Iranian middle class.

Now, even the Iranian regime’s estimates suggest that the vast majority of the country’s citizens are living under the poverty line. Yet Khamenei and the IRGC refuse to tap into any of the trillions of dollars in resources that they personally control, which could be used to make investors whole following a crisis those authorities helped to create.

Now the ongoing protests in Iran show that Iranians hold the regime responsible for their harsh living conditions.

The Mashhad protest that sparked the January 2018 uprising was notably focused on airing economic grievances, but as it spread, the public clarified their rejection of the talking points Tehran had always advanced to explain away such matters.

“The enemy is here; they are lying that it is America” has become a very familiar slogan in recent years, as Iranians publicly attribute their own hardships to the regime’s corruption and economic mismanagement, rather than the effects of the U.S. sanctions. More recently, this sentiment has begun to intermingle with an electoral boycott campaign, as participants in recent protests have emphasized they have no intention of legitimizing the Iranian regime by supporting the tightly controlled and ultimately meaningless electoral process.

In February 2020, a boycott of the regime’s sham parliamentary elections was wildly successful, resulting in the lowest voter turnout. That outcome seemingly reiterated the mass rejection of the ruling system that had just been expressed in the January 2020 uprising and is today seeking an outlet in a broader movement that includes but is not limited to this week’s protests in Lorestan or recent protests by defrauded stockholders and deprived pensioners.

In fact, those protests themselves are linking up with the anti-regime movement since at least the beginning of 2021. The expression of grievances over the economy has been led, during that time, by pensioners for whom the rate of inflation has dramatically outpaced their income, leaving many of them in absolute poverty.

Now the pensioners have endorsed the electoral boycott and begun to emulate the uprisings’ wholesale rejection of the ruling system. In this sense, the emerging protest movement demonstrates the very same progression as the first of the pre-pandemic uprisings, starting with a focus on economic issues and expanding into calls for regime change. It is also similar insofar as it shows signs of uniting around the leadership of the Iranian Resistance.

Throughout Iran, “Resistance Units” have been placing posters and painting graffiti to shape the focus of the electoral boycott. Messages seen in recent days include, “A hard no to the religious dictatorship, yes to a democratic republic,” “The people’s boycott of this election is the flip side of popular uprisings,” and “My vote is for regime change.”

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