Iran protests point to a genuine desire for counter-revolution

Establishment figures would never organise a nationwide uprising whose prime slogan has now become the removal of the religious elite from power, writes Ahmed Vahdat

epaselect epa06410380 Iranian students clash with riot police during an anti-government protest around the University of Tehran, Iran, 30 December 2017. Media reported that illegal protest against the government is going on in most of the cities in Iran. Protests were held in at least nine cities, including Tehran, against the economic and foreign policy of President Hassan Rouhani's government.  EPA/STR

The protests that have erupted across Iran have spread so fast there can be little doubt about the genuine yearning for a “revolution against the Islamic Revolution” across the nation.

Exactly 40 years to the day that the Ruhollah Khomeini-led protests began in the holy city of Qom, the current uprising has started in the "Vatican City of the Shiites”, as Mashad, the heartland of the religious establishment in Iran, is known.

At first commentators thought the protests, apparently sparked by an increase in the price of basic goods such as eggs and fuel, could be the product of jockeying by leading figures vying for the succession to Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader.

In particular Mashad is the stronghold of Ahmad Alamalhoda, an ultra-conservative cleric whose son-in-law, Ebrahim Raeesi ran unsuccessfully against President Hasan Rouhani in last year’s presidential election.


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The family position in the city gives it national standing. Millions of pilgrims visit Mashad every year to visit the shrine of Imam Reza, a revered figure in the Shiite sect. Additionally Ayatollah Raeesi remains at the helm of the economic empire of Astane Ghods Razavi, a powerful foundation that holds wide commercial interests. He has also a demonstrated ruthless streak and been involved in mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s as one the three judges who ordered the purges.

The claims do not bear scrutiny in light of events. It may be conceivable the faction instigated a local show of protest against Mr Rouhani’s government. However these establishment figures would never organise a nationwide uprising whose prime slogan has now become the removal of the religious elite from power.

In Iran under the Islamic republic, the struggling economy has always been the regime’s Achilles heel.

Mr Rouhani’s new government’s budget last week provided detailed account of the funds allocated to various national defence projects for the first time. The budget for military expenditure, which has been substantially increased, met with public uproar. Several editorials in reformist papers questioned the generous allocations given the widespread poverty and economic hardship that the nation is facing.

Many Iranians have since been shouting the slogan of “Neither Gaza, Nor Lebanon, We Only Give Our Lives For Iran” on the streets in recent days. This item of Mr Rouhani’s budget has been interpreted as yet another squandering of the nation’s wealth for the regime’s expansionist and ideological goals.

Prominent opposition activists view the uprising as an explosion of many years of public dissatisfaction with the regime’s domestic and foreign policies.

“This is like the opening of an old wound”, Shirin Ebadi, the Noble Peace winner told The National. “The regime must listen to the people. The first and main demand of the people is that they no longer want this regime for their country. People must stay on the streets until the rulers succumb to this demand. And a civilised way of achieving this can be a referendum under the supervision of international bodies to decide about the future system of governance for Iran.”

Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the Shah of Iran, whose name has been chanted by demonstrators asking him to “return and save Iran”, believes the divide between the interests of ordinary citizens and the regime cannot be bridged. Any hope of the current regime being able to meet the economic and social demands of the protesters is futile.

"The ruling theocracy, like communism, is a failed political ideology. It is not economically viable. It requires too much bloodshed to maintain its power while at the same time losing legitimacy through such acts, and it requires making enemies out of natural allies to create distractions”, he said.