The last six weeks of nationwide uprisings in Iran have changed all developments. In these more than 40 days, the protests have gone through various stages of expansion and stabilization. All indications point to several conclusions: 1) Whatever comes next, the conditions in the country will not revert to what they were prior to the uprisings; 2) What is occurring now is a full-fledged revolution.
The clerical regime, along with those international voices that advocate a policy of appeasement, was very hopeful that this uprising would be brought to an end within a few days via political negotiations, propaganda and bloody repression so that the despotic theocracy could go on surviving and perpetuating the fraudulent narrative of internal competition between “moderates” and “hardliners”.
But neither of these supposed political factions has ever answered, or could ever answer, the people’s accumulated demands, which go far beyond the relatively simple demand for a better economy or more jobs. Meanwhile, Iranian society has developed a strong will to fulfill these demands on its own. This set the stage for the people to defy the expectations of the regime and its supporters with their reaction to the murder of Mahsa Amini. The incident sparked a democratic revolution.
Mahsa’s murder was not an anomaly. The Iranian regime has the world’s highest annual rate of executions and is the world banker of international terrorism. The mullahs killed protesters in the streets on June 30, 1981, and went on to massacre more than 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, 90 percent of whom were affiliated with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK).
The killing and torture of prisoners continued afterwards, along with assassinations, kidnapping and further bloody crackdowns on dissent in 2009, 2018 and 2019. Regime officials themselves have acknowledged, the painful incident of Mahsa Amini’s murder was the starting point for the uprising and revolution against the totality of the mullahs’ fascist regime.
Indeed, one of the uprising’s highlights is the chant, “This is not a protest, it is a revolution”. This slogan is also among the most common to appear on walls in graffiti. The people of Iran understand very well the difference between revolution and protest, and they understand exactly that what they are bravely carrying forward is a democratic revolution.
Iran is a society that has a deep understanding of the revolution. During the past 116 years, the country has had several revolutions, but each time the fulfilment of their demands for freedom and democracy was suspended for various reasons. In 1953, a foreign-orchestrated coup installed a puppet monarchist dictatorship in the form of the Pahlavi family. And in 1979, that same anti-monarchy, pro-democracy revolution was hijacked by a reactionary and barbaric mullah, Ruhollah Khomeini.
The Iranian people still respect Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the leader of Iran’s National Movement, who was overthrown by the 1953 coup. Many Iranians consider him a national hero. The generation that carried out the pro-democracy revolution before Khomeini. are still alive, and many of them joined the MEK and the organized resistance, who today are leading the new revolution that is taking place on the streets of Iran.
Because of this history, when the people of Iran clearly talk about revolution, we can be sure that they are not merely seeking reforms within the framework of the existing system. They are demanding the overthrow of the entire ruling regime and the establishment of a new and democratic legal and political structure.
That demand is evident from slogans like “death to the dictator,” which have been repeated constantly over the past six weeks. And it has been refined with another common slogan: “Death to the oppressor, whether it is the Shah or the leader (Khamenei)”. This is repeated more and more these days in universities and on the streets of different cities to express the people’s loathing of any form of dictatorship.
In addition, video clips of people confronting the security forces in different cities make it abundantly clear that this is an organized action, which emanates from the model of MEK-affiliated Resistance Units. The MEK’s 40-year fight against the clerical regime has inspired today’s young protesters to stand tall in front of that regime’s repressive organs while burning propaganda billboards and images of Khamenei. These actions have been carried out daily by the Resistance Units in the recent few years.
Are the protests organized?
Many have asked whether this democratic revolution is organized and whether it has a leader. During the Iranian Revolution, everything was determined on the streets and the answer to this question regarding today’s uprising should also be found on the ground and with the Iranian people, not in Western capitals. Anyone who has closely followed Iran’s affairs understands that the protesters’ ongoing actions show growing similarity to the actions of Resistance Units in the past few years.
In addition, many political and security officials of the regime have announced that they have arrested some field leaders of the uprising, who are actually MEK-affiliated Resistance Units.
The duties of the international community
While Iranian citizens have risen, and the regime has responded with new crimes, foreign powers have gone through a multi-stage process: first indifference, then advice, followed eventually by gentle expressions of disgust and condemnation before policymakers finally forget the protests and make serious efforts to resume negotiations and deals with the mullahs.
Since the uprising began, more than 400 people have been killed and more than 20,000 have been arrested. Despite this, many governments are still indifferent, while others have reached the stage of condemnation, where they use the word “supporting people’s peaceful protests” quite purposefully. The message is clear, however, “We want the regime to survive and we do not consider the people to have a legitimate right of self-defense against the mullahs’ killing machine.”
The Iranian people’s message is equally clear – they do not value this verbal support, which is nothing but an ugly and crude form of political theater. Those who make changes in the streets with immeasurable courage understand very well that these political platitudes take place while some of these governments still seek to negotiate and indulge in photo opportunities with the mullahs or their lobbying circles.
This is insulting to protesters in Iran.
These governments’ insistence upon “peaceful protests” leads one to wonder whether they would oppose the same revolutionary actions from Iranians that they praise in the authors of the American and French revolutions.
An old Iranian adage says: “A friend should be recognized in hardships”.
Iran has changed, and developments are moving forward quickly on the ground. The time has come to abandon old and bankrupt policies.
In order to keep pace with the huge changes that have occurred in Iran’s political landscape, three serious and practical steps are necessary, which should be implemented by Western governments as soon as possible:
1 The complete cutoff of political and economic relations with the clerical regime.
- The recognition of the democratic revolution of the Iranian people and the legitimate right of Iranians to defend themselves against the mullahs’ organized repression.
- Starting a dialogue with the organized Iranian Resistance, as the only democratic alternative to the ruling theocracy.
These three steps can be the beginning of a friendship with the people of Iran and their historical aspirations and the foundation of new relations.
*Dr. Behrouz Pouyan holds a PhD. in political science from Tehran University. He is an assistant professor at a university in Tehran. As he is reporting and writing from inside Iran, his name has been changed for his safety.