The Islamic Republic has been gripped by demonstrations that erupted after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last month, and that have now spread to more than 90 cities across Iran. The response of the regime has been to dig in its heels and use live fire to suppress protesters. It’s a policy that the top clerics warmly embrace.
This protest is now in its second month, and is the most challenging nationwide protest in the history of the Islamic Republic. It shows no signs of dying down, despite the massive show of force by Iran’s police and the IRGC. And what began as a protest in Tehran and Iranian Kurdistan over the morality police killing of Mahsa Amini, who had been picked up for incorrectly wearing her hijab, has become something much deeper and broader. The initial chant “woman, life, freedom” has now given way to a direct challenge to the regime and its Supreme Leader: “Death to the Islamic Republic! Death to the Dictator!”
The Iranian rulers are in a quandary. Those protests have spread to more than 114 villages and cities across Iran, including even the holy city of Qom. The regime has tried every repressive measure it knows to suppress the protestors, including live fire, but instead their numbers, and their rage, keep growing. Some former high officials, such as Ali Larijani, have suggested a change in tactics, where instead of repressing the protestors, the government would show its good faith by agreeing to listen to their complaints. So far such suggestions have been waved off by the hardline clerics running things; they only know force and the threat of force.
A report on one senior Iranian cleric’s statement can be found here: “Senior Iranian cleric calls for tough measures against protesters,” Reuters, October 21, 2022:
Iran’s judiciary should take tough measures against protesters and anyone who thinks the country’s rulers will fall is dreaming, a senior cleric said.
“The judiciary should deal with the rioters – who betrayed the nation and poured water into the enemy’s watermill – in such a way that others don’t again fancy to riot,” hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said in a Friday prayers sermon in Tehran.
“They have told deceived kids that if they stay in the streets for a week the regime will fall.
“Dream on! The judiciary should deal with rioters in such a way they would never aspire to riot.”
None of the protesters were ever told, and none believes, that “if they stay in the streets for a week the regime will fall.” Everyone knows that it will take many months of protests, gathering force as more and more people, now unafraid, come out against the regime, as they have been doing, with the protests now having spread to 114 villages and cities, and to 81 university campuses, and now include, not just women and girls ripping off their hijabs in protest, but men and women of all ages joining together to call for an end to the regime and the death of the Supreme Leader. These Iranians have lost the fear they once had, and are willing to come out despite the live fire from the police and the IRGC.
Iran has blamed “thugs” linked to “foreign enemies” for the unrest.
The nationwide protests have turned into one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 revolution. Protesters have called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, although the protests do not seem close to toppling the system.
As protests continued in several cities, the activist website 1500tasvir posted a video it said showed a demonstration in the central city of Isfahan and footage purporting to show protesters lighting fires on streets of the northwestern city of Mahabad late on Thursday.
Videos of protests have been delayed because of internet restrictions imposed in Iran by authorities, activists say.
On October 21 a dozen Starlink terminals arrived in Iran, which may help protestors avoid the Internet shutdowns put in place by the regime in its campaign to crush anti-regime social media. How much of a difference the Starlink terminals will make in the ability of dissidents to communicate with each other is still unknown.
The activist news agency HRANA said in a posting that 244 protesters had been killed in the unrest, including 32 minors.
It said 28 members of the security forces were killed and over 12,500 people had been arrested until Thursday in protests in 114 cities and towns and some 81 universities.
Another factor for the Iranian regime to consider is that unlike the previous protests – in 2009, 2017, and 2019 – the protests that began in September 2022 have received massive international coverage, and there have been widespread demonstrations against the regime, in solidarity with the protesters, in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Toronto, New York, and Washington. These protests are often organized and led by Iranians in exile. The coverage shows no signs of decreasing. Only the war in Ukraine receives more media attention.
There is only so much lying Iran can now do; it has too often been caught in a lie. The world remembers that Tehran claimed that Mahsa Amini was not beaten by the morality police, though eyewitnesses testified that they saw her being savagely beaten with batons as she was being shoved into a van by the morality police. She died, according to Iran’s first version of the event, of a “heart attack.” The government’s second version insisted that her death was connected to a brain operation she had had at the age of eight, fourteen years prior to her death. Her parents denied both stories. No one believed the government.
Nor did the Iranian government help itself when it explained the death of 16-year-old Sarina Ezmailzadeh. Sarina had gone to a protest full of enthusiasm and high spirits, as seen in her social media posts, yet the Iranian regime wants the world to believe that she suddenly left the demonstration, entered a nearby building, raced up five flights of stairs, and threw herself off the roof. When her mother saw her lifeless body, crushed by batons, she went home and killed herself. A similar case was that of 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, who also died during protests last month. Her family alleges she was killed by security forces after she burned her hijab. Iranian authorities claim she fell off a roof. Shakarami’s death, and the apparent attempts to cover it up and intimidate her family into accepting the story of her “suicide,” fueled further outrage. Each new lie has fed the anti-regime fury.
Iran’s unwise decision to supply Putin with thousands of its UAVs (drones), which he has used to destroy much of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, has angered not just Iranians, but the entire Western world. Iranian trainers are now operating from a Russian military base in Crimea, where many of the drones have been launched since being delivered from Iran. In recent days, the Iranian drones have become an important weapon for Russia, which has used them as part of the systematic strikes across Ukraine against electrical infrastructure, heating oll and gas plants, and other purely civilian targets. This destruction of electricity grids, water distribution, and energy supplies will make the coming winter a hell for tens of millions of Ukrainian civilians.
The supplying of those drones to Russia has only increased the world’s rage against the Iranian regime. Not only has Iran been helping Russia’s pitiless campaign by supplying Moscow with Shahed-136 drones, but it has sent about fifty of its own IRGC drone experts to Crimea to actually launch the drones. (Ten of those trainers have already been killed by Ukrainian missiles). While both Iran and Russia deny any transfer of Iranian drones to Russia, the Ukrainian military has retrieved pieces of drones that they shot down, and which clearly have Iranian identifying marks on them, that have now been shown across the world. Once again, Iran has been caught in a lie that has been easily disproved. Iran is the only country in the world now supplying weapons to the war criminals of Russia. Tehran has now made itself a target of rage, both by Ukrainians and by all those worldwide who support Ukraine.
And it’s not just Iranian drones destroying infrastructure in Ukraine that are cause for fury. Tehran has now promised to provide Russia with surface to surface missiles, in addition to more drones, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters, a move that is likely to infuriate the United States and other Western powers.
A deal was agreed on Oct. 6 when Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, two senior officials from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards and an official from the Supreme National Security Council visited Moscow for talks with Russia about the delivery of the missiles.
“The Russians had asked for more drones and those Iranian ballistic missiles with improved accuracy, particularly the Fateh and Zolfaghar missiles family,” said one of the Iranian diplomats, who was briefed about the trip.
A Western official briefed on the matter confirmed it, saying there was an agreement in place between Iran and Russia to provide surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles, including the Zolfaghar.
So now, in addition to the drones, we will have Iranian missiles being used by Russia to kill Ukrainian civilians and to destroy their infrastructure. And Iran will lie about the delivery of those as well.
The question the Supreme Leader must ask himself is whether the tens of millions of dollars Iran will make from the sale of those drones and missiles to Russia is worth the terrible damage it does to Iran’s already battered reputation. Isn’t it likely to push those Western countries that were still hoping for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran – meaning the U.S., France, Germany, and the U.K — will now lose all faith in Iran’s trustworthiness, given its blatant lies about the deaths of the girls its police have murdered, and its easily-disproved denials about weapons it is supplying Russia. Perhaps the drones and missiles Iran sends to Russia will in the end have the unintended consequence of furthering the position the Israelis have been urging all along: no return to the 2015 deal, and a publicly declared willingness, by the U.S., to use the military option if Iran continues its pell-mell rush to obtain a nuclear weapon.