Following the Iranian regime’s failure to meet people’s fundamental and rightful demands, Iranians have repeatedly taken to the streets in recent years. However, the authorities responded to society’s cries for essential needs with violence, murdering thousands of citizens and arresting more.
Despite brutal crackdowns on defenseless demonstrators, the protests continued and extended across the country. Observers say that there was at least an uprising in a span of every four months since 2018.
The protests include:
—Nationwide protests in around 50 cities following the increase in egg prices in December 2017 and January 2018.
—Protests in Kazeroun, Fars province, following authorities’ decision to split the city in May 2018.
—Protests against plundering policies in several industrial provinces, including Alborz, Khuzestan, and Isfahan, in August 2018.
—Nationwide protests in around 200 cities following gas price hikes in November 2019.
—Students’ protests in Tehran and several major cities after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) admitted to shooting down the Ukrainian commercial flight PS752 and killing all 176 passengers and crews onboard in January 2020: and
—Protests against oppressive measures in Behbahan, Khuzestan province, in July 2020.
Nevertheless, the ayatollahs rejected people’s demands and harshly suppressed protests. For instance, the State Security Force (SSF) along with the IRGC murdered at least 1,500 barehanded demonstrators within two days in November 2019.
Iranian Authorities Exploited Coronavirus to Extinguish Protests
Afterward, the country sank into its worst-ever health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic. Dissidents believe that the authorities intentionally avoided dealing with the pandemic seriously, leading to more than 530,000 victims, based on reports provided by the Iranian opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
In January 2021, Khamenei banned the import of reliable vaccines from the U.S., the U.K, and France. “The import of American and British vaccines is forbidden. I’ve said this to officials, and now I am saying it publicly,” said Khamenei on January 8, 2021.
Khamenei formally announces a ban on the import of all US & UK Coronavirus vaccines to Iran.@JZarif @tparsi & the rest of the regime's apologists claim US sanctions are blocking import of #COVID19 vaccines to Iran. Not true. Listen for yourself.
— M. Hanif Jazayeri (@HanifJazayeri) January 8, 2021
Dissidents point to Khamenei’s speech downplaying the coronavirus and describing it as a “blessing” on the national arbor day, March 4, 2020. In this context, they believe that the theocratic tyranny exploited Covid-19 as a human shield to ensure its power against the growing anti-establishment protests.
“When Covid-19 came to Iran, people were stunned by this deadly virus, and the regime managed to control the explosive society for a while by letting the disease spread. But gradually, protests by people from all walks of life erupted, intensifying in the last few months,” the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) wrote on March 16. “The regime, particularly Khamenei, sowed the wind and will have to reap the whirlwind.”
Tehran Upgrades SSF to a Special Units Command
Based on state-run media reports, the ayatollahs have elevated the SSF to a Special Units Command, leading the rank of SSF commander Hossein Ashtari to the level of chief commanders of the Army and IRGC.
“Due to the grace of the commander-in-chief [Khamenei], the SSF structure has changed from a force to a general command such as the IRGC general command or the Army general command,” the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the IRGC-Quds Force, quoted SSF spokesperson Mehdi Hajian as saying on May 15.
Earlier on December 6, 2021, Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri had declared the decision. “The approval of the comprehensive plan of the structure and organization of ‘General Command of the Law Enforcement’ by the commander-in-chief is a source of improvement and a landmark for further security,” he said.
The same day, the Mehr news agency, affiliated with the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), provided more details about the decision. “The State Security Force commander will be equivalent to chief commanders of the Army and the IRGC, as well as the first Vice-President.”
“Obviously, Khamenei prepares his oppressive apparatuses against looming protests through such attempts,” dissidents say. “The establishment of new oppressive systems is underway while many people deal with unprecedented inflation and skyrocketing prices of essential food staples.”
“Such decisions show that the regime can no longer count on its so-called social base, as it has completely failed to reduce the gap between an unelected state and a volcanic society. ‘Khamenei is a murderer, his rule is null and void,’ ‘Death to Khamenei and Raisi,’ and ‘The mullahs must get lost’ slogans in recent protests prove this reality.”