Since the Iranian regime’s new president, Ebrahim, was appointed in June, there have been signs of persistent unrest in Iran. In fact, the signs of that unrest had made themselves known even before Raisi be “selected” by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Raisi is the “henchman of 1988” and had high-level participation in a massacre of political prisoners that took place in the summer of that year. As Tehran’s deputy public prosecutor in the run-up to the massacre, Raisi became one of four officials to serve on the Tehran “death commission” that was tasked with implementing a brutal fatwa issued by the regime’s founder and first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini.
By all accounts, Raisi was among the most enthusiastic agents of Khomeini’s order for the systematic execution of all members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Protests in advance of Raisi becoming president underlined his responsibility for the vast majority of the 30,000 executions estimated to have been carried out during the 1988 massacre.
As the unrests in recent years in Iran have been escalating the MEK’s “Resistance Units” have proven to be a central driving force in a number of recent, large-scale protests and nationwide uprisings.
One such uprising took place in January 2018 and encompassed well over 100 localities while giving rise to stark anti-regime slogans such as “death to the dictator.” Those same slogans were adapted to another nationwide uprising in November 2019, this one involving residents of nearly 200 cities and towns. Today, similar slogans are appearing in the form of graffiti and banners in many of those municipalities, signaling the same sort of Resistance Units activism that set the stage for the previous protests.
Of course, unlike in 2018 and 2019, many of the current slogans take aim at Raisi, while also maintaining their prior focus on “the dictator,” Khamenei. In recent days, the MEK has identified at least 17 cities in which Resistance Units had posted messages publicly, often urging another popular push for regime change as the only solution to problems plaguing Iranian society. In some cases, the site of these messages overlapped with the locations of large-scale protests organized by schoolteachers to mark the start of a new academic year.
Although teachers have specific and unique grievances, a number of the associated protests have embraced the message of regime change, thereby continuing a trend that was previously seen in demonstrations by pensioners, blue-collar workers, victims of government investment scams, and so on. The growing alignment among these activist groups and an overarching Resistance movement is strong evidence of the general upward trend in unrest and for protests in the near future that dwarf those of the years just prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
That public health crisis is another contributor to the growth of public outrage, especially in light of the effort the MEK has put into exposing the regime’s mismanagement and highlighting the significance of Khamenei’s statements on the topic. According to the MEK, the death toll from Covid-19 in Iran is fast surpassing 445,000, nearly four times the figure given by regime authorities, and that the surge in mortality over the past year is attributable to Khamenei’s decision to ban the import of proven vaccines from the United States and Europe.
At an earlier stage, Khamenei referred to the pandemic as a “blessing,” deliberately using it as a means of containing unrest in the wake of November 2019. Certainly, the decline in unrest during 2020 speaks to the fact that this was an opportunity for the regime to acquire some breathing room. Khamenei sought to take advantage of that opportunity after the prior failure of violent repression.
In January, less than a month before regime authorities acknowledged the presence of coronavirus in the country, activists in more than a dozen provinces took part in protests sparked by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) missile strike that brought down a commercial airliner near Tehran. The protests once again reflected a message of regime change that was grounded in the actions of Resistance Units, and it also took direct aim at the IRGC which had spearheaded crackdowns on the prior uprising.
Recently, teacher protests and other public demonstrations have adopted Resistance Units’ slogans highlighting the memory of “1,500 martyrs” of the November 2019 uprising. This is the number of peaceful protesters reported to have been shot dead within days of that uprising breaking out. This killing spree not only proves the mullahs’ brutality in the face of threats to their hold on power, but also of the people’s resilience in the face of that brutality.
Even after 1,500 people had been killed and countless others tortured, it took a pandemic for Iran’s public activism to become more subdued. But this change was only temporary. Resistance Units have continued their work in the interim and have made the general public aware of the ongoing proliferation of reasons for them to demand regime change. Now, the regime authorities themselves see their downfall on the horizon. Ahmad Alamolhoda, a representative of Khamenei in the city of Mashhad, confirmed as much on Friday, recognizing a recent outpouring of unrest and warning, “In all seditions around our Islamic country we can find the [MEK]’s footsteps.”