The courage in facing Iran and countering its policies is no longer just measured by the decisions taken outside it. Some states decided to directly confront national security challenges posed by Iran’s policies in the region and elsewhere — namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, the United States, European Union and Great Britain. In Yemen, there are popular and tribal elites, parties and blocs that support the legitimate power and confront Iran and its project. In Iraq, Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr re-established the country’s political identity in a manner that opposes Iran’s project that aims to dominate over Mesopotamia. Lebanon might be the weakest link in the confrontation as it’s where Iran has its most deep-rooted wing via Hezbollah’s militias, yet Beirut is resisting even if in its own way.
All this is important but what is even more important is the domestic confrontation of the Iranian project or the direct consequences of this confrontation on the Iranians’ life, welfare and security. There is now growing internal discord between the rhetoric of the revolution and its dire outcomes.
Student outwits Supreme Leader!
Using very simple words, Iranian student Sahar Mehrabi delivered a detailed indictment of the revolutionary regime while addressing the supreme leader face-to-face in an unprecedented manner at a seminar held by the “leader’s office” during the month of Ramadan.
Mehrabi went beyond the classic flaws related to unemployment, economic decline and civil liberties in their broader sense. With intelligence and tact and under the headline of deepening democracy, she raised the issue of political tutelage of the supreme leader and his problematic position vis-à-vis the Iranian regime, in terms of the fact that institutions which fall under his jurisdiction are not held accountable — like the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary and some media outlets that have mastered the game of defamation and accusing others of treason.
Mehrabi’s speech caught Khamenei off-guard. Khamenei later tweeted that he “understood the feelings of the young lady who said the situation is very bad, but I completely disagree with her.”
The speech and the tweet are oceans apart revealing a profound trust deficit and disconnect that is worsening between the leader of the revolution and the people. The distance that separates both parties is expanding like a black hole swallowing all the revolutionary rhetoric, future promises and whatever is left of the Iranians’ trust in the revolution, its future and their future in its shadow.
While Mehrabi was making her speech in the presence of the supreme leader, Iranian truck drivers were continuing with their ongoing strike, which did not receive any media coverage except through social media networks. The truck drivers have been protesting the rise in their expenses due to spike in fuel prices, the hike in insurance policy costs, soaring price of spare parts and increase in road taxes. This is the latest manifestation of the deterioration in the country’s general economy. Iran’s national currency has been suffering continuous losses in its value that reached around 60% and no monetary solution appears in sight. The withdrawal of the US from the nuclear deal is also impacting heavily on Iran’s overall economic situation due to the departure of the shipping giant Maersk. Other companies are also preparing to withdraw, most notably the French company Total.
Mudslinging by top leaders
The flight of foreign capital from Iran has become a major topic of discussion in the parliament. According to MP Mohammad-Reza Pour-Ebrahimi, head of the parliament’s economic affairs committee, the flight of capital has been estimated at around $30 billion in the last months of the Iranian year which ended on March 20.
There is no doubt that the underlying factors behind the economic decline are quite complex and are related to political and environmental issues, sanctions and reasons related to the reality of the global economy.
However, average Iranian citizens, whose suffering is increasing, do not possess the ability to have a more complex understanding of the situation. They would blame what they see, mainly the enormous cost of Iran’s political and military project outside the country, along with the fierce political infighting among different branches of the regime. It is not a minor matter that former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is accusing Khamenei of stealing more than $100 billion in public money and for the Revolutionary Guard leaders to accuse President Hassan Rouhani of being an agent or for Rouhani to respond by addressing the Guards’ mafia-like economic role. In democracies, such allegations are finalized by conducting serious investigations and by resorting to institutions, accountability and change but in the rigid system of the Iranian revolution, it is the regime’s reputation, prestige and ability to win people’s trust that are affected.
The Iranian citizen is Sahar Mehrabi and her outcry. The Iranian citizen is the cyber activists who hacked the screens in Mashhad’s airport a few days ago and displayed slogans supporting workers on strike and criticized Iran’s wasted resources in Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen. Mashhad is the city which witnessed the most violent and largest protests in the end of last year since the Green Movement in 2009 was suppressed.
Something is unraveling within Iran and is no longer hidden — it is the belief in tomorrow and in the regime’s ability to continue. On May 7, Financial Times correspondent Najmeh Bozorgmehr began her report from Tehran with the question: “Has the countdown to the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Iran begun?”
Sahar Mehrabi will not wait long to make sure of the answer.
The article is also available in Arabic.
Nadim Koteich is a leading Arab satirist. His show DNA airs Monday to Friday on Future and Al Hadath channels. He is a columnist with Asharq Alawsat. He tweets @NadimKoteich.