Last November, the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) to “do whatever it takes” to end the nationwide protests that sprang up spontaneously after Tehran announced sudden hikes in the government-set price of gasoline. The result was a series of mass shootings across dozens of Iranian cities. After only a few days of IRGC attacks on public protests, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) announced that 1,500 people lay dead from gunshot wounds. Others survived shootings but can be expected to suffer permanent effects after arresting authorities prevented them from receiving medical treatment. What’s more, some of the thousands of arrestees are still facing possible capital punishment, so the ultimate death toll remains to be determined.
This bloodshed shows the regime’s brutality and its utter fear of people’s uprising that rattled its foundations in November. In fact, mullahs have always used violence to quell the restive Iranian society. The regime’s crackdown on 2019 uprising or its brutality during the previous nationwide uprising in January 2018, were not the only examples of the regime’s brutality. Another example is the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, which saw over 30,000 individuals, mostly MEK supporters and members, condemned to the gallows for the crime of opposing the theocratic dictatorship and advocating for a democratic system in its place.
That was ultimately the message of the two recent uprisings, as well. Although both triggered by the economic hardship brought on by the regime’s mismanagement and self-serving policies. This was reflected in protesters’ slogans that were widely repeated among the 150 participating cities in the first uprising, and 200 in the second. Iranians from various ethnic, geographic, and economic backgrounds were heard to chants “forget about Syria; think of us,” in an effort to highlight the regime’s wasteful spending on foreign adventurism at a time when the Iranian people were suffering terribly.
Protesters also expressly condemned both factions the regime, making it clear that they saw no pushback against these misplaced priorities coming from either Khamenei’s “hardliners” or the “reformists” associated with regime President Hassan Rouhani. The apparent demand for an outside alternative lent additional credence to some of Khamenei’s own statements about the uprisings. In January 2018, he declared that the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), had planned for month to bring the protests into the open. The MEK has long advocated for a transitional government led by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is in fact a government in-exile, in advance of Iran’s first truly free elections.
This in turn helps to explain why Khamenei was so eager to order his thugs to “do whatever it takes” to crush the uprising when it re-emerged last November. The MEK has maintained its role as the leading voice for Iranian democracy since the early days of the mullahs’ regime hijacking the 1979 anti-monarchic revolution. Accordingly, it became the main target of the 1988 massacre and has sacrificed over 120,000 of its members and supporters for the cause of freedom.
Notably, though, the crackdowns have not halted the MEK’s efforts to facilitate popular overthrow of the mullahs’ regime. And the two uprisings, coming less than two years apart, suggest that these efforts have been efficient. They also suggest that the Iranian people as a whole are prone to the same sort of resilience that allowed the PMOI itself to weather the lion’s share of 30,000 hangings, plus subsequent assassinations, and come out the other side as strong as ever. In addition to playing a leading role during the nationwide Iran during recent years, the Iranian Resistance has developed a substantial international presence, and leading an annual rally and conference in the summer which attracts tens of thousands of Iranians, plus hundreds of political dignitaries, from throughout the world.
The collective resistance of the public and the MEK was tested after January 2018, when dozens of participants in that month’s protest were killed, some of them under torture. They passed the test with flying colors when the sequel to that uprising proved to be even more widespread and even more forthright in its message of regime change. Now, even regime’s officials and media acknowledge the Iranian society’s restiveness and the MEK’s role and potential in guiding people toward freedom.
Several recent editorials in Iranian state news outlets have highlighted the near inevitability of another uprising being modeled after the recent two. The state-run daily newspaper Etemad, for instance, quoted one regime official as saying that Iranian society is currently in a state whereby “any dissatisfaction quickly turns into social protest.” Another daily, Asre Iran, said that as long as the status quo persists and conditions for ordinary Iranians continue to worsen, these protests will “have the ability to evolve” into overthrow of the ruling system.
These and other state media outlets, as well as some of the regime’s officials, have begun urging the regime to undertake serious reform initiatives, in hopes of alleviating a bit of the public outrage. But the Iranian people have rejected these deceptive actions by chanting “hardliner, reformist, the game is over”. In addition, the mullahs’ regime is not capable of changing its behavior. It is not as though the supreme leader was unaware of the severity of the outrage when he ordered the IRGC to put it down by any means necessary. He deliberately prioritized the repression of dissent over any compassionate response to the people’s suffering, and he will most likely do it again whenever another uprising emerges.
As the Iranian Resistance has said, mullahs will continue human rights violations until the very last days of their survival. Any compromise on the regime’s current, self-serving priorities would be tantamount to the abdication of power. For this reason, the only legitimate means of alleviating the Iranian people’s suffering is by overthrowing this regime. The Iranian resistance and its members and supporters have and will always paid the price of the struggle for freedom. The Iranian regime’s worst repressive measures fail to outpace the hardship associated with a system that has left about 80 percent of the Iranian population living beneath the poverty line, while the mullahs enrich themselves and strive to extend their power beyond their nation’s borders.