There are ongoing demonstrations in Iran’s ‘Shiite Crescent.’ Iraq and Lebanon are ablaze with angry protesters who want change, an end to confessional politics, and corruption. These angry demonstrations have now extended to the source – the Islamic Republic of Iran itself. The Iranian peoples ire is directed toward the ayatollahs, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the people harassing Basij militia. This time the demonstrators are protesting a hike in gasoline prices, but that is only an excuse for the general malaise that pervades this nation of 80 million people. The Bazaris, the mainstay of the Iranian economy, are feeling the impact of U.S. sanctions, and are resentful of the corruption around the ruling elite. The Iranian regime decision to triple gasoline prices, despite earlier promises by President Hassan Rouhani, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, igniting cross-sectarian protests that have outdone any that have gone on before. The hike makes it clear that U.S. sanctions have exhausted the regime’s coffers, prompting it to seek to generate revenues from its own people.
The free world must not ignore the current protests, especially the U.S. In 2009, when the Green Movement in Iran emerged, millions of young Iranians were frustrated by the regime subverting the elections by giving a second presidential term to the unpopular Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At that time, two years before the “Arab Spring” uprisings occurred, the Obama administration ignored the protesters who carried signs saying “Obama, are you with us or with them” meaning the Ayatollah regime. Yet, the same U.S. administration gave quiet support to the Arab revolutionaries.
The Iranian regime has cut off the entire nation from access to the internet. To tamp down the protests, it has imprisoned journalists and other leading protesters. The U.S. must support the protesters seeking freedom from the oppressive regime. It must be done however covertly, to deny the mullahs the excuse that the protesters are “instigated by the U.S.” It is the role of the human rights organization to voice their indignation. This does not mean putting Israel on the spot by Human Rights Watch for expelling a leading BDS instigator, whose naked hostility to Israel was clearly transparent. It means admonishing and condemning the Iranian regime for its brutality and abuse of its own people. Amnesty International website carried a headline (November 25, 2019) on its website that read, “Iran: World must strongly condemn use of lethal force against protesters as the death toll rises to 143.” Amnesty International pointed out that, “According to credible reports received by the organization, at least 143 people were killed. The deaths have resulted almost entirely from the use of firearms. One man was reported to have died after inhaling tear gas, another after being beaten. Amnesty International believes that the death toll is significantly higher and is continuing to investigate.” Phillip Luther of Amnesty International said, “The international community’s cautious and muted response to the unlawful killing of protesters is woefully inadequate. They must condemn these killings in the strongest possible terms and describe these events for what they are – the deadly and wholly unwarranted use of force to crush dissent,”
The government’s refusal to abandon gas price increases and the brutal use of violence to crush the protests must have been approved by the ayatollah. The regime is expecting to raise additional revenue from the price hikes. Officials have attempted to spin the protests, suggesting that the hike was in the public’s interest. But it has also ordered internet services to be cut, with senior figures, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif issuing statements claiming the protests had ended in order to persuade protesters to return home. As expected, Iranian officials have accused protesters of being paid stooges and agents of enemy states, particularly the U.S. and Israel, claiming that their objective was to create instability and regime change.
The economic hardship experienced by the average Iranian is apparently an opportunity for the regime hardliners to put the burden on President Rouhani and try to gradually sideline the so-called moderate camp in the Iranian political landscape. The hardliners accuse Rouhani of mismanaging the implementation of the recent increase in gasoline prices, which resulted in public anger. As a result, Rouhani’s main focus in his remaining time in office will likely shift to domestic challenges, with less time to follow up on his recent regional diplomatic initiatives, such as the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (an Iranian proposal to establish a regional dialogue forum much like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Rouhani raised the initiative in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September as a basis for solving the problems between Iran and its Arab neighbors. Meanwhile, Iran’s Arab rivals, especially Saudi Arabia, may now have even less incentive to enter into a meaningful dialogue with a weakened Rouhani.
The protests in Iran and those in Iraq and Lebanon, are further evidence of widespread anger at Iranian policies, highlighted by recently leaked documents published by The New York Times, showing the scale of Tehran’s meddling in Baghdad’s affairs. The fact that the protests in Lebanon have even reached the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hezbollah’s loyalist heartlands, shows the total rejection of the fundamentalist sectarian ideology that emerged in 1979 with the Khomeinist regime.
The New York Times reported (November 19, 2019) “in one of the leaked Iranian intelligence cables, Mr. Mahdi, who in exile worked closely with Iran while Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq, had a ‘special relationship with the I.R.I.’ — the Islamic Republic of Iran — when he was Iraq’s oil minister in 2014. The exact nature of that relationship is not detailed in the cable, and, as one former senior U.S. official cautioned, a special relationship could mean a lot of things — it doesn’t mean he is an agent of the Iranian government. But no Iraqi politician can become prime minister without Iran’s blessing, and Mr. Mahdi, when he secured the premiership in 2018, was seen as a compromise candidate acceptable to both Iran and the United States. The leaked cables offer an extraordinary glimpse inside the secretive Iranian regime. They also detail the extent to which Iraq has fallen under Iranian influence since the American invasion in 2003, which transformed Iraq into a gateway for Iranian power, connecting the Islamic Republic’s geography of dominance from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.”
Forty years of rule by the Ayatollahs in Iran, has left the proud Iranian people with little more than repression, fundamentalism, sectarian hate, corruption, and mismanagement. The Iranian people seek dignity through quality education and jobs, and not by sponsoring worldwide terror and the quest for nuclear weapons. They want to be part of the civilized world, not partners with the murderous Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Russia (we might rightfully add Turkey’s President Erdogan in this connection). The apocalyptic ayatollah regime has little to show for itself other than exporting extremism, arms, and Shiite militias who spread violence and bloodshed. This is a regime that young educated Iranians want to get rid of. The protesters in Beirut, Baghdad, and Tehran have recognized the problem they are facing, and it is the Iranian regime.