Struan Stevenson, As tens of thousands of young Chinese men and women take to the streets in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Wuhan, in protest against President Xi’s harsh ‘Dynamic Zero Covid’ restrictions, China is witnessing its biggest uprising since Tiananmen Square, more than 30 years ago. Protests have taken place in 70 universities, as students turned their anger on the Communist government. It seems that the young people of China, like their brothers and sisters in Iran, are sick of autocratic, authoritarian rule and are desperate for change.
In Iran, the nationwide uprising is heading into its 11th week with the theocratic regime helpless to stop it, despite ordering a savage crackdown that has led so far to over 660 deaths and more than 30,000 arrested. The mullahs’ medieval prisons are bursting at the seams, crammed to breaking point with young protesters and political prisoners. Students in universities across Iran are demanding their release. The mullahs would do well to remember that the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille.
Defiant young people with Molotov cocktails have targeted bases used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and their thuggish cohorts the Basij militia. To be caught in the act of throwing a Molotov cocktail would mean almost certain death at the hands of the clerical regime, but young Iranians have lost their fear of the mullahs, torching the regime’s billboards and posters of the elderly and delusional Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Chants of “Death to Khamenei,” and “Death to the oppressor, be it the shah or the supreme leader,” and “College students would rather die than live in infamy,” can now be heard in towns and cities across Iran. Truck drivers, factory workers and shopkeepers have gone on strike in solidarity with the nationwide protests.
The Iranian economy is in free fall. The combination of economic decline and social repression has caused widespread poverty in Iran with the majority of the 80 million population living below the international poverty line. There are rumors that Khamenei is seriously ill, while splits are beginning to appear in the ranks of the corrupt IRGC, between the fundamentalist hardliners and the profiteering opportunists. It took 400 days for the revolution to overthrow the Shah in 1979, and the new revolution in Iran may depose the fascist mullahs’ regime even faster. The sham election last year of Ebrahim Raisi, the so-called ‘butcher of Tehran’, notorious for his key role in the 1988 massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners, was the last straw for many Iranians. Indeed, it was Raisi’s order to tighten up on the wearing of the mandatory hijab that led to the death in custody of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, when she was arrested by morality police for not wearing her hijab properly.
Resolving the current insurrection is no longer possible. There was a brief window of opportunity earlier this year for the revival of the deeply flawed nuclear deal in return for the lifting of sanctions.The deal was introduced by Obama in 2015 and unilaterally ditched by Trump in 2018. But President Joe Biden’s misjudged attempts to appease the Iranian regime were met with international scorn as the mullahs deployed heavy-calibre machine guns and armored military vehicles to gun down young, unarmed protesters after the uprising began. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is now a distant memory. Courageous young Iranians, led often by women, have ferociously rejected the religious dictatorship of the mullahs in their pursuit of freedom, democracy and human rights.
Young, educated Iranians know that a new government, fairly elected and fully representative of the people, could unlock Iran’s enormous energy potential in oil, gas, renewables and industry, forming an essential bridge between the Caspian, the Gulf, the Middle East and the 1.8 billion energy-hungry people of South Asia. A great future beckons for Iran if only they can rid themselves of the dead-hand of religious tyranny. The regime’s downfall and the establishment of a democratically elected government will ensure their life, liberty and prosperity. ‘Women, life, freedom’ will become a reality.
In a recent speech, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said: “The free world must support the democratic revolution for which my empty-handed compatriots are laying down their lives. When inalienable and God-given rights cannot be secured through peaceful means in the face of a brutal dictatorship lacking any legitimacy, it is incumbent upon women and men of honor to secure them through organized, responsible and self-sacrificing struggle by any means within the bounds of internationally recognized covenants — such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognizes the right “to have recourse as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression.The United States Declaration of Independence, too, holds that “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” a government that is destructive to its citizens’ life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
The civilized world must rally to support the Iranian people in their struggle for freedom. We cannot sit idly by and watch the brutal mullahs prevail. The downfall of this corrupt and cruel regime would transform the Middle East, where for decades, Khamenei has poured men and resources into supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syrian, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the vicious Shi’ia militias in Iraq, the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. The downfall of the mullahs would also be a body blow to Vladimir Putin, who relies on the Iranian regime to supply him with thousands of weaponized drones, which he uses daily to attack Ukraine. For the West, supporting the Iranian uprising is surely a win-win situation and it would send a profound message of encouragement to the angry masses who have taken to the streets in China. All dictatorships fail. Mikhail Gorbachev famously said: “The world will not accept dictatorship or domination.” Now is our chance to prove he was right.
Struan Stevenson was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). Struan is also Chair of the ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is the author of several books