By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai
Iranians took the streets for the seventh day, leaving behind more than 20 killed and hundreds of arrests in various Iranian cities. These protests are considered to be the biggest challenge (several thousands) to the government since the 2009 Green movement. The big question remains: who stands behind these manifestations and who are the beneficiaries?
Both the liberals and the hardliners, as well as the rest of the world, were taken by surprise when the manifestations spread to various cities just before the new year 2018. Actually, thousands of Iranians hit the streets a couple of days before the 9 Dey, a manifestation organised yearly to reaffirm allegiance to the Islamic Republic and its religious leadership, and mainly against the reformists Mir Hussein Mussavi and Mahdi Karrubi’s Green Movement (still under house arrest since then).
The Iranian hardliners leaders see no interest in mobilising the street days before other manifestations were expected in their support. Moreover, there are many occasions throughout the year where the population can be asked to rally in solidarity with the Iranian Islamic Republic. These hardliners are today in control of key intelligence, security, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Basiji and key decision-making positions in the country. Therefore, any uncontrolled manifestation falls to their disadvantage, mainly when the mob has no obvious leadership in the street or behind the scenes, to date.
Iran’s security and national interest really doesn’t need wide uncontrolled manifestations when Takfiri (religious extremists i.e. al-Qaeda and ISIS) can destabilise the country and yet blend in. Moreover, Iran is also under threat from neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia, who promise to destabilise the country from within. This follows the victory of Iran and its allies in Iraq and Syria, as well as its support to the Houthis in Yemen that is stopping Saudi Arabia from celebrating a quick victory despite its superior fire power, siege and the indiscriminate slaughtering of civilians. Also, Israel prefers to divert attention from Gaza to the events in Iran, to turn the world’s attention away from its doings in Palestine.
The greatest danger the Iranian leaders feel is coming from Israel and from the current US administration. This has manifested especially as the defiance has been publicly declared by the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassim Soleimani who sent a clear message asking the US forces to leave Syria. Moreover, Soleimani declared his readiness to finance and arm Palestinian organisations in Palestine to fight Israel and stop the implementation of Donald Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
Trump did not stand still watching: since he is in office, the US President has been working to revoke the nuclear deal, threatening his European partners – who took a different stand for the first time against the US at the UN – if they deal with Iran and help the Islamic Republic recover its economic prosperity.
Because the war has come into the open between Iran and the US (and all its allies in the Middle East), Saudi Arabia expressed its readiness to join the efforts, along with Israel, to curb the Islamic Republic of Iran and destabilise it. This leads us to the most plausible conclusion that the Iranian hardliners – who are leading the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij and the “Axis of the Resistance” – have no interest in supporting the ongoing protests which are hitting this weak economy. These protests – to the hardliner’s disadvantage – are allowing enough space for international and regional intervention to organise themselves and support those in the street.
These Iranian protesters in the street are today composed of angry youth pushed by economic grievances: others are, and remain, anti-regime, they never accepted the Islamic Republic ruling. Some protesters are pro-Shah, and others are pro-US. All this mixture with these various titles are melting together, with different objectives and goals.
As for the liberals, these demonstrations are damaging the Iranian economy, pointing to the failure of the government led by President Hasan Rohani. These demonstrations rightly prove the incapacity of the liberal President to put an end to grievances resulting from unemployment, corruption, price increases, and difficult living conditions inherited from previous governments. The liberal President walked in to lead the government in 2013 with a country under heavy sanctions and suffering from critical economic conditions.
Since the rule of the late former President Hashemi Rafsanjani (1991) demonstrations in the country are taking place with a different intensity, calling for the improvement of living conditions, secure employment opportunities, and the enhancement of the purchasing power of the local currency.
However, the nuclear deal that President Rohani relied on to secure positive results and went through an extra stretch to face the hardliners –enjoying rare and precious support from the people and from the leader of the revolution, Ali Khamenei – has not borne fruit. President Trump has so far refrained from releasing the 150 billion dollars of Iranian assets and refused to meet and recognise Rohani’s reforms and liberalism.
Rohani failed to secure the Iranian banks’ openness needed towards the international market – despite the moral support received from Iran’s new European partners – due to the US’s objections and the intention to curb any effort by the liberals. And European banks are reluctant to do business with Iran for fear of being penalised.
The present situation regarding these demonstrations is the result of a number of different tendencies, claims and demands. The way in which it is handled will determine whether the “enemies of Iran” can effectively instrumentalise it to their advantage or not. Of course, there is a real economic crisis in Iran, part of a global problem not limited only to the Iranians. It is hitting even rich monarchies like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is introducing new taxes on electricity, gasoline and on major goods and services. Moreover, the Saudi crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman is jailing Emirs and Saudi businessmen in order to suck up their wealth (to impose his will, secure his ability to govern recover some of the high sums given to the US for ‘protection’, and balance some of the billions spent on Syria and Yemen).
However, those just socio-economic demands have brought only a small fraction of the Iranian people (a few thousand) to the streets, whereas hardliners and liberals are capable, if they were indeed behind the protests, of mobilising millions of supporters: this is obviously not the case.
Today, the government is cautiously reacting to the protestors because the Iranian leaders do not want to wear the clothes of repression as long as these protests do not cause great harm to government facilities and public and private property.
However, the continuation of violence will most probably force both the liberals and the hardliners to unite and take the initiative before it costs more lives and damages to contain it. Widespread unrest in different cities may force the liberal president to take radical measures and give up his soft approach in order to avoid foreign countries organising themselves and intervening financially and supporting wider protests, similar to what happened in Syria in 2011.
Ironically, all those who have accused the Iranian people of terrorism, including Trump and most main stream media and think-tankers, have become suddenly great supporters of the Iranian people and their ‘freedom’. Social media is fuelled by fake news and images from Bahrein protests, reported and tweeted as ‘manifestations in Iran’. And there is still no mention, by these suddenly sensitive researchers and journalists, of the human rights violations taking place in Bahrein and the daily Saudi massacre in Yemen. Trump is furious because Iran is out of his control and dominance (this has been the case of all US Presidents since 1979’s Islamic Republic) and not because of human rights and American values: America is today supporting Saudi Arabia and its “values”.
However, the more Trump tweets about Iran, the more he supports the theory of Sayyed Ali Khamenei, who, as an Iranian leader close to him put it to me, told President Rohani behind closed doors: “Never trust them (the US administration and leadership). Go and try your luck but never forget they were and will always remain the enemies of Iran and the Iranians, all Iranians without distinction”. This is what Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said!