January is the first anniversary of Iran's protests. Massive demonstrations shock Iran to the core. A year passed and the Iranian regime's officials are celebrating their survival. Although supreme leader Ali Khamenei told his followers not to go overboard with joy because in his words" The enemy may have big plans for next year." He is right since the year has been a very difficult one for the regime. It is safe to say that not a day passed without some kind of protest here and there. Khamenei and his accomplices foresaw a quick end to last year protests like all other uprisings in past 40 years.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards top brass predicted that this round of protests which initially were a natural reaction to economic ruin of the country soon would blow off. But Iranian citizens surprise the rulers with successive demonstrations, protests and sit-ins. Simply by not giving in, they decided this time to wear the regime down.
The protests in Iran last January began with demands for food on the tables but they quickly turned into political demands. Because soon the people realized that this regime neither want nor is able to give them what they wanted.
It is not at all far from truth to think that events of last year in Iran draw serious resemblance to that of Arab Spring. The difference is that Iran's protests have not stopped because unlike previous ones which were brutally crushed by the regime, the new rounds have involved all IraniansReza Shafiee
Shortly after the initial sparks, the protests mushroomed into 140 cities across Iran. An estimated 8000 protesters were arrested and over 50 were killed by the security forces. A fairly new scheme used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Intelligence Unit for wiping out the most vocal prisoners while in custody was to kill them under torture and then claim they "committed suicide." No one bought it. It is hard to guess exactly how many prisoners were killed in custody but it is safe to say at least 12.
In August, more than 1,000 people were arrested during protests in Tehran and other provinces over deteriorating economic conditions and corruption. A protester was murdered in Karaj, during the week-long protests.
The fifth round of truckers strikes has just begun. In the third round, At least 264 of striking drivers were arrested for allegedly blocking roads and trying to pressure colleagues to join the strike. Since January 2018, 7442 months prison sentences were handed down by the regime's judiciary while giving 2694 lashes for protesters. 263 death sentences were carried out by the security forces last year. All numbers show a sharp upward spike since the previous year.
“Iran spring” underway
It is not at all far from truth to think that events of last year in Iran draw serious resemblance to that of Arab Spring. The difference is that Iran's protests have not stopped because unlike previous ones which were brutally crushed by the regime, the new rounds have involved all Iranians and they are not isolated and limited geographically. What makes it more frightening for the regime, as many of its top officials keep reminding, is that US sanctions are biting hard and this is a recipe for disaster. No matter how hard President Hassan Rouhani tries to imply in his hope therapies sessions, now often given across the country, saying that it is business as usual and the theocratic regime is in complete control, a look into their empty pockets tell them otherwise.
A few days ago, Khomeini's grandson Hassan rose the curtain when he said that we may not be around for long.
“There is no guarantee we will remain and others will go. If we don’t follow the rules, they will take your place,” he said. “We must beware of the day that our posts are changed and roles are completely transformed.”
Keep in mind that Hassan Khomeini still has enough clout in the regime's circles especially among that of so called "reformists." Hassan is the custodian of his grandfather's multi-billion dollar shrine outside Tehran.
Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said in an interview with a Tehran daily published on December 27 that "intimidation" and "fear" were the main things propping up the Islamic establishment.
"In my view, a breakdown [of principles] has already happened, there hasn't been a physical collapse, but I see that as very likely," Hashemi told Mostaghel newspaper.
Faezeh and his father belong to so-called "reformists" camp.
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“Presently, if you look at any domain, some of the activists of that domain are in prison, including workers, teachers, truck drivers, women’s rights activists and environmental activists, students, and economic activists,” Rafsanjani said. “But in content, the collapse has already happened because wherever you look, the system is not working,” Hashemi said.
Ahmad Salak, a member of the Iranian regime’s Majlis (parliament), is another insider voicing similar concerns in a recent interview.
“The enemy intends to increase our economic dilemmas and turn them into public protests… We cannot be certain there is not a new sedition in the making. The enemy seeks to constantly claim the country is not functioning correctly and there are vast problems and corruption, all to encourage the public to stop supporting the [mullahs’ regime] and for [them] to come and resolve the people’s dilemmas,” Salak told the paper.
Although it seems that the ruling clerics are still in control but scratching the surface tells us an entirely different story. Iranian people yearn for a democratic change in Iran and that will not happen unless they rid themselves of this regime; something that should have happened a long time ago.
Reza Shafiee is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). He tweets @shafiee_shafiee.