The recent round of protests in Iran were indeed impressive. Following the belated admission by Iranian officials that the military had shot down a passenger plane last week, students in several cities quickly turned their candlelight vigils for the victims of the plane crash into anti-regime protests.
Slogans against the regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and his terrorist-designated Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were the key highlight of the protests. The protesters’ emphasis on rejecting the regime in its entirety was remarkable. And the continuation of the protests for several days despite the regime’s widespread security measure and efforts to intimidate the demonstrators was admirable.
But one really comes to appreciate the effect and significance of these protests after seeing them in the context of the events that have taken place in Iran in the past months. Here are some of the key takeaways from the recent round of student protests in Iran and what they mean for the future of the country.
Nationwide protests are becoming more frequent
Since the rise of the mullahs to power after the 1979 revolution, Iran has witnessed recurring periods of unrest and widespread protests. The 1999 student protests in Tehran, the 2009 nationwide uprisings, and the 2017 protests in more than 140 cities are the most prominent examples.
In all these cases, the regime resorted to brutal repression to quell the protests and restore its control over the country. The violent response has usually bought the regime a near-decade window before the occurrence of the next wave of protests. In fact, in most cases, the people who took part in one round of protest were usually too young to have experienced or remembered the violence of security forces in the previous one.
But the November 2019 protests, which happened less than two years after the 2017 uprisings, put an end to this tradition. The regime’s response was even more brutal than before. Security forces opened fire on protesters in the street and killed more than 1,500 civilians in the span of a few days. More than 10,000 people were arrested; several have died under torture, reports indicate.
And yet, despite the memory of violent crackdown still being fresh, the same people who had witnessed the brutality of the regime’s security forces in November took to the streets again in January. As the trend shows, the gap between nationwide protests is closing and we can expect more similar protests to happen in the future.
And in tandem with protesters becoming bolder and more fearless in their protests, it is now the regime’s turn and its security forces to fear the people.
The main target of the protests is the regime’s leadership
All nationwide protests were triggered by an event. For instance, the 2009 demonstrations were in response to the rigged presidential elections. The 2018 protests were triggered by economic woes after the government declared its yearly budget plan. The 2019 protests started after the sudden gasoline price hike. And the latest round of demonstrations was a protest to the government’s downing of the passenger plane and its lying about the fact.
However, amid the protests are also an outburst of rage at the regime in its entirety and a manifestation of a feeling of resenting toward the tyranny that has been ruling Iran for 41 years. Among slogans protesting poverty, unemployment, and government corruption, there have always been brave souls who defy the regime’s security forces and chant slogans against the entire rule of the mullahs. Even fewer were those who had the audacity to chant slogans against Khamenei, a red line that is usually met with brute force by security forces.
As recent protests, both in November and January, show, those brave souls are increasing in numbers, and slogans against Khamenei, the IRGC and the entire rule of the mullahs are becoming the main feature of protests, not an aside.
In fact, during the protests that followed the Ukrainian plane crash, most slogans were directed at Khamenei himself, calling him a murderer, a disgrace, a liar and a tyrant. “People didn’t die for us to praise the murderous leader,” “The leader is our disgrace,” “Khamenei have some shame, let go of the state,” “Khamenei is a murderer, and his rule is obsolete” and “Death to Khamenei” were just some slogans being chanted against the supreme leader.
Regime change is the only solution
The protesters are also making it clear in their slogans that they want regime change, a goal that the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) have sought for nearly four decades. “We don’t want the Islamic Republic,” the protesters chanted, referring to the name the mullahs put on the country after the 1979 revolution.
Their response to those who have been seeking a solution from within the regime is clear. “Reformists, principalists, the game is over,” the protesters have been chanting for the past two years, including during this week’s protests.
The protesters also clarified that they will not return to a regime that they have overthrown more than 40 years ago, a decisive answer to those who believe the people of Iran want to return to the era of the monarchical dictatorship. “Death to the oppressor, whether he be the Shah or the Leader,” the protesters were chanting this week. Shah was the tyrannical monarch whose regime was overthrown by popular uprisings in 1979.
These increasingly popular slogans have caused concern among regime officials, with many attributing them to the MEK. In public remarks, Khamenei blamed the MEK for the uprisings that took root in more than 190 cities in November.
His remarks were echoed by many other officials who are expressing concern over the increasing influence of the MEK and the Resistance Units inside the country and their role in organizing protests.
Protests are inclusive
While the latest round of protests was mainly held by university students, they reflect the feelings and desires of the entire Iranian nation. As students moved out of university campuses amid the heavy presence of security forces, they were quickly joined by other people who shared their hatred for the regime.
In the past two years, workers, students, teachers, government employees, public sector workers, truckers, farmers, merchants, and many other segments of the Iranian society have held anti-government protests in different Iranian cities. The feeling of hatred and frustration toward the regime spreads across the entire Iranian population.
The regime’s destructive policies, squandering the country’s assets on developing weapons of mass destruction and spreading terrorism and fundamentalism to neighboring countries have damaged the lives of every Iranian. The regime’s response to peaceful protests and popular demands has been to crack down on demonstrations, arrest organizers and send protesters to prison, which has only intensified their rage and united them in the common cause to bring down this regime.
More than ever, the people of Iran are ready for the change in their country. And every day brings them closer to achieving this goal.