Over the past six days, the Iranian people have taken to the streets to protest the nation’s weak economy. After the Iran protests began on December 28th, protesters expanded their critiques towards Iran’s clerical rule, as well as rising food prices, falling wages, unemployment, and corruption. Unemployment in Iran sits at 12%, while unemployment among youth is around 28% inspiring many students to join the protests. Women have also joined, appearing in the streets and on social media without their headscarves in violation of the mandatory dress codes imposed by the regime.
The Iranian people have demanded that the government cease their squandering of resources abroad and instead invest in their own people in light of the economic difficulties. Iran has long been accused of acting as one of the most prominent state sponsors of terror. This month, Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, stated in a speech, “It’s hard to find a conflict or a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it.”
While many in the international community found Haley’s comments ironic, few could deny that she does indeed have a point. At the moment the Iranian government is believed to be arming the Houthi rebels in Yemen as well as financing Hezbollah, an organization known for terrorism and trafficking.
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So far, 22 people are believed to have have been killed in the clashes between the regime and the protesters, including one member of the security forces, while more than 450 protesters have been arrested in Tehran alone. According to information disseminated via social media, hundreds of others have been arrested in various Iranian cities.
Officials for the Iranian government have warned that protesters will be punished “firmly.” Musa Ghazanfarabadi, the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, stated that protesters would soon face trial for a number of charges including “moharebeh.” Moharebeh, an Islamic concept, is the crime of “warring against God.” Since Iran is run by an Islamic regime, the punishment for moharebeh is death.
Iranians across the country and the world wonder whether the Iran protests will lead to genuine regime change and a return to secular power, or whether they’ll eventually be suppressed like the 2009 Iran protests. Leaked Israeli intelligence reports seem to favor the latter interpretation. The report indicates that although the Iranian government was surprised by the upheaval, the Iran protests do not yet pose a threat to the regime. The report reads, “The Iran protests started over economic issues but very fast took a political and violent turn which included harsh anti-regime criticism over government spending on Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.”
Following the 2009 Iran protests the regime was able to recover and consolidate power. After the lifting of sanctions and the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, the Iranian government is believed to be more secure than it was in 2009, leading many to question whether the citizen uprising has any chance at a successful outcome.
The Iranian Government Respond To Iran Protests
Although the Iran protests began over economic concerns, citizens quickly turned their anger towards their leaders. Protesters have been recorded chanting “Death to the dictator!” and various other slogans against religious leaders, while some groups of protesters have torn down banners bearing the the image of Ayatollah Khamenei.
The Iranian government has blocked access to social media in order to prevent activists from organizing further protests. Images and videos showing government forces using tear gas and water cannons against the protesters have nevertheless found their way to social media, while it has been reported that security forces have opened fire in some cities.
President Hassan Rouhani has evaded responsibility for the protests, while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was slow to issue a statement.
On January 2nd, Khamenei, the religious leader who has led Iran since the 1979 revolution, directly blamed foreign influence for the protests:
The enemy is waiting for an opportunity, for a flaw, through which they can enter. Look at these events over the last few days. All those who are against the Islamic Republic — those who have money, those who have the politics, those who have the weapons, those who have the intelligence — they have all joined forces in order to create problems for the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution.
Rather than taking responsibility, many officials within the Iranian government have instead blamed foreign influence for inciting the riots whether directly or indirectly. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has blamed Israel, the US, and Saudi Arabia for the instability. Ali Shamkhani, secretary to the Supreme National Security Council, echoed claims of foreign involvement in statements given on Monday, saying “Hashtags and messages about the situation in Iran come from the United States, Britain, and Saudi Arabia.”
International Response To Iran Protests
The international community was surprised at the outbreak of the Iran protests, leading many to wonder whether outside influence was behind the movement.
The Iranian government has accused Israel of inciting the protests, an allegation adamantly denied by Israeli authorities. Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted a video voicing his support of the Iran protests and the Iranian people:
The Iranian regime tries desperately to sow hate between Iranians and Israelis. They won’t succeed. When this regime finally falls – and one day it will – Iranians and Israelis will be great friends once again. I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom.
Netanyahu also stated that Iran’s insistence that Israel is behind the Iran protests is an insult to the Iranian people who bravely demand their freedoms. The Israeli leader went on to speak out against the suppression of social media and the imprisonment of students.
Many Israelis are actually originally of Iranian descent. Before the 1979 revolution, Israel had significant economic interests in Iran supported by a thriving Israeli population living in Tehran, who quickly fled following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the subsequent Islamic revolution.
President Donald Trump also took to twitter to voice similar views to his Israeli counterpart. Never missing an opportunity to critique the Obama administration, the President wrote:
Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!
President Trump also tweeted that “the US is watching” the Iran protests, leading many in Iran and the international community to take this as indicating the President’s willingness to become involved in the upheaval. The President’s remarks come as a contrast to President Obama’s measured response to similar protests in 2009.
Critics of President Trump have stated that he should leave the Iran protests alone and allow the Iranian people to have their moment free of American commentary or intervention. President Trump’s comments have also raised questions as to what involvement the US and American intelligence community may have had in inciting the protests. Leaked intelligence reports and sources inside of the Arab intelligence community indicate that at this point there is no proof that outside forces have incited that Iran protests; the protests seem to be an authentic reaction by the Iranian people against economic stagnation.
Echoing accusations of foreign involvement in the Iran protests, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement today saying, “We hope that peace is ensured and common sense prevails so that the events do not escalate, and that rhetoric and foreign interventions that incite developments are avoided,” while the EU has voiced their concern over and support for human rights in Iran.