Nearly two dozen people have been killed and at least a thousand people arrested by the authorities since anti-government protests erupted across Iran late last month. That amounts to more than a hundred detentions per day – a grim statistic even by the standards of the Iranian regime. Among those carted away to jails are 90 university students. There is no evidence that any of those students were involved in the protests. Their arrests, carried out as a "preventative" measure, reveal the extent of the panic that is sweeping through the corridors of power in Tehran.
A system built on coercion and presided over by self-serving men has been confronted by a citizenry whose welfare has for too long been subordinated to the reckless imperial fantasies of the regime. A government that was responsive to – or even mindful of – its people's needs might have looked for ways to parley with them. But Iran's so-called "revolutionary" government is unlike most other governments: it exists not so much to protect or advance the interests of the Iranian people as to serve a tiny elite that rules them. And no matter who the face of the government is, repression has always been that ruling class's answer to demands for reform from below.
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Nearly 20 years ago, when tens of thousands of Iranian students poured onto the streets of Tehran demanding change, it was another "moderate" president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, who oversaw their brutal suppression. Dozens of students, "disappeared" by the regime in 1999, have never resurfaced. A similarly bloody crackdown, but on a much greater scale, ensued 10 years ago after millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the widely disputed re-election to the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Having quelled the uprisings at home, the Iranian state got busy exporting terror and violence to countries across the Middle East and beyond.
But the anger brewing beneath the surface at home could not long be contained as things went from bad to worse. Young Iranians witnessed their government, led by the supposedly moderate Hassan Rouhani, diverting millions of dollars to terrorist organisations abroad as youth unemployment at home soared to 40 per cent. It is hardly surprising that more than 90 per cent of all the protesters detained by the government over the last 10 days are under the age of 25. How many of them will be "disappeared"? In 1999, the world did nothing because it believed Iran was being led by a moderate. In 2009, the world looked the other way. In 2018, the least we can do is dispense with the lie that Iran is being led by reasonable people.
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