What direction will Iran’s coming revolution take

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
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The Iranian regime in its present form cannot last, with protests certain to escalate, sanctions biting hard, the economy crumbling, and Iran’s currency the rial in deadfall, the end is looming.

But when the regime eventually falls, it will fall due to the consequences of its own hegemonic and oppressive policies, brought down by the wrath of its people, who have suffered decades of terrible abuse from this brutal mullah-led dictatorship.

Being obsessed with its own survival, plus the hegemonic ideology of its creator, Ruhollah Khomeini, the regime has spent billions of dollars shoring up its armed forces, much of it coming from cash returned through its “adherence” to the Iran Deal, which has ensured the strength of its war machine has been maintained to its fullest, allowing its IRGC Quds Force to carry out armed incursions in neighbouring states, and its security forces to maintain order on Iran’s streets, all at the expense of its own people’s welfare.

Apart from this, vast sums of cash, which should have been targeted at the unemployed and homeless, or those subsisting on wages far below the poverty line, have been pumped into the coffers of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, as well as funding terror groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis, allowing them to further the regime’s hegemonic policies, causing great contention amongst the Iranian people.

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In a similar scenario, during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian people in both the working and middle classes, felt they were not benefitting from the country’s new oil wealth.

This was at a time when the elitist classes were able to embark on one-day shopping trips to Paris, purchasing designer clothing and suchlike, as the shanty towns of Iran’s poor grew rapidly, and the lower classes suffered terrible hardships, whilst barely being able to feed their families.

As far as mass demonstrations are concerned, street power has often been brought into play by the Iranian people, as being ingrained in their historical social psyche since ancient times. It had eventually been set in stone by the legendary leader Cyrus the Great, as he built the Persian nation in 559 BC, proclaiming how it was the right of the people to remove any leader through force, should they abuse their authority against the people.

Over the centuries, such has been the propensity for spontaneous shows of violence, brought on through vast displays of people power, the ordinary citizens of Iran have found they have been able to use such expressions of mass anger to their advantage.

But during the Shah’s reign, by June 1978, with what at first appeared to be the odd strike amongst the private sector and government industries in Iran, beginning to spread into a nationwide strike, it eventually brought the wrath of the Shah’s armed forces down on the people.

On 8 September 1978 (which became known as Black Friday), with martial law having been declared, troops were sent out onto the streets of Tehran, and showing no mercy, they went on the rampage, slaughtering thousands of unarmed demonstrators.

Immediately following, strikes began to escalate on a massive scale, and by the following day, Tehran’s oil refinery workers had come out to express their solidarity over the massacre, as well as to condemn the proclamation of martial law, and with industrial action spreading like wildfire, it soon encompassed Abadan, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tahriz.

At the start of this social unrest, the protests were focused on the economy, but in no time at all, the dissent turned into a political issue, with demonstrators crying out: “Down with the Shah”.

As the anger increased, the momentum began to pick up, as various other sectors of society joined the strike, including doctors, hospital workers, teachers, bank employees, postal workers, staff within the telephone companies, employees within the broadcasting sector, and workers in various forms of the transport industry, from trains to airports, bringing Iran to a standstill.

But in today’s protests, although protests and strikes have increased across the country, they have a long way to go to reach the momentum achieved by Khomeini’s followers in the days leading up to the 1979 Revolution.

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Even though during the present upheaval, with protestors having been seen setting light to pictures of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whilst calling for his downfall and death, as well as burning the Iranian flag, occupying regional governors’ offices, and setting light to buildings and cars, the protests are far from the scale seen during the build up to the Revolution.

The main advantage Khomeini’s followers had over those taking part in the present protests, is that Khomeini himself was already a well-established anti-government rebel within Iran, who before his exile, was out on the streets rallying the people with firebrand anti-Shah speeches, and had many years to prepare for his revolution amongst the people.

What also benefitted Khomeini greatly was the fact that the Shah might have been in charge of the government and army, but he had no control over the religious establishment. This meant that with Khomeini being an ayatollah, not only was he protected from arrest by law, he was also very popular with the people, due to his constant verbal attacks against the Shah.

It was through the backing of the religious establishment, Khomeini’s followers were able to organize protests around mosques and religious events throughout the land, and with the Shah fearing a clash with the religious bodies, knowing it would incur the further wrath of the people, escalating to even more unrest, he had held back from the temptation to arrest religious leaders.

At this point, even though Khomeini was in exile during the build up to the Revolution, those representing him in Iran had managed to stoke up the people’s wrath against the Shah to fever pitch, paving the way for the revolution.

Such was the organizational skills of Khomeini’s agents, who were behind the setting up of the strikes, they were able to arrange street demonstrations on a massive scale, giving notice of events in mosques during prayer sessions, which culminated in a rash of violent rallies, and mass strikes, causing chaos throughout the country.

By this time, the Shah had realized that his reign was now on shaky ground, and feeling the necessity to placate the Iranian people, for the first time in months, he addressed the nation, pleading for calm, and announcing that he had listened to the people’s “revolutionary message”, he promised a change in direction of policy.

Then in sheer desperation, he ordered the arrest of well over a hundred former leaders and government officials, whilst releasing over 1,000 political prisoners. But even with such concessions, the situation deteriorated, and with demonstrations becoming so vast and heated, the Shah eventually fled the country.

People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in this still image from a video obtained by REUTERS.
People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in this still image from a video obtained by REUTERS.

Months of rioting

It has to be remembered that in the lead up to the 1979 Revolution, rioting on the streets had lasted several months, and with the Shah’s ill-trained military being unskilled in any form of crowd control, its only answer was to open fire on unarmed civilians, which in itself, angered the people even more, and had accelerated his downfall.

As the demonstrations took hold, the Shah’s troops had slaughtered protestors in their droves, while during today’s current unrest, the present Iranian regime has acted with more restraint, and although deaths have been in their scores, the main response to the dissent has been to round up thousands of the ringleaders, throwing them into prison.

But should the time come for a violent crackdown, the troops which would be deployed to the streets by Khamenei, wouldn’t only be the crowd-controlling Basij militia, whose brutality is infamous, but to ensure against a full-scale revolution and regime change, they would come in the form of battle-hardened veterans of recent conflicts, which would certainly not react in the same way as the ill-trained troops in the ranks of the Shah’s army, who had capitulated when things got too tough.

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At this point, the only thing that could save the Iranian people from wholesale slaughter, would be if the IRGC being deployed against them, would not have the stomach to gun down unarmed civilians, and realising that the game was up, turn themselves into the heroes of the people, by turning against their religious leaders.

But the way things stand in Iran right now, although street demonstrations have escalated, they have a long way to go to reach the massive show of popular force that brought down the Shah. But when that day arrives, there will be nobody to coordinate a fight back across the country using mosques as bases as was done during the last days of the Shah, as Basij spies are everywhere, and with no capitulating troops, there will be no armouries to loot.

Although the National Council of resistance of Iran (NCRI) and others are doing an excellent job using social media, those on the streets right now, aiding the protestors, cannot match Khomeini’s old mosque network, and unless there is extra aid from an outside force, it would leave thousands of people being gunned down on the streets, which could create Syrian-style confrontations on Iran’s streets.

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