The unrest within the country has become the most important challenge the Iranian regime is facing. Over the past year there have been major protests over the economy, unemployment, and corruption, but no one was prepared for the spontaneous combustion that occurred on December 28 in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.
Observers said that it was triggered by news that the government was unveiling a budget cutting that cut spending on social services, and increased spending on the military, as well as the spike in the cost of food and other essentials. However, while the dire situation of the economy may have lit the spark for the demonstrations, they were fueled by an outrage that took on a broader anti-government tone. Slogans targeted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Chants of “Bread, work, freedom,” turned into, “Young people are unemployed, and mullahs have all the positions,” and, “The nation is destitute while the leader is acting like God,” as well as, “Reformers, hardliners, the game is now over.” More shockingly, the polite “Khamenei, forgive us, but it is time for you to go,” gave way to “Death to the dictator,” and, “Death to Rouhani.” Such chants are punishable by the death penalty in Iran.
An Iranian-American woman who read that the latest demonstrations in her native land were strictly about economic hardship said, “Revolutions always erupt from the discontent of the masses over a period of time and are triggered by a single event. That single event can be a specific crackdown, it may be a price hike on the city buses, you get my point.” Now, it’s “the massive corruption and theft of the nation’s wealth by the ayatollahs and the increasing material support of the international terrorist organizations. People are fed up,” she said. “The trigger for this uprising is the mishandling of the $100 billion that Obama has given the ayatollahs. The chatter on the street ever since has been that that money will never be used for the ills and needs of the society and country, but instead will be used for once again expanding terrorism around the world and for the ayatollahs’ personal private accounts. Which has been the case exactly.” This woman left Iran at age 16, and lives with her mother live in Washington. They are not affiliated with any opposition group, but their views echo that of the NCRI and the MEK.
A European-based member of the MEK, Shabnam, helps organize further demonstrations with people back home. “It is true that the protests are based on the economic suffering of the people which has existed for many years under the mullahs’ regime. But because constant hatred for the regime by the people always existed in Iran (due to the human rights violations and denial of basic freedoms), there was always an explosive atmosphere in Iran which was under the ashes. That’s why the uprising quickly became political,” she says. “From my personal experience, I know that the people genuinely understand that the root of all the economic hardships that they have faced is the regime. The people have realized that they will not be able to live normal decent lives and the economic situation will not get better for as long as the mullahs are in power.”
The Washington Post reports, “U.S. officials were surprised by the outbreak of the protests and how they have spread.” The newspaper talked to one official who believes “the unrest is different from the protests in 2009 because the latest events are occurring outside Tehran and are fueled by working-class grievances that are economic in nature, not political” and added “that the novelty of the protests is making it difficult for U.S. officials to predict where they will lead.”
The officials should talk to the MEK or the NCRI. “The anti-corruption demonstrations that expanded over the past year were a warning sign that Tehran ignored,” says Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. “What you see now is the accumulation of over three decades of repression and corruption that has now erupted. Dictators always miscalculate, as did the shah.”
Ali Safavi, also an official with the Washington office of NCRI, which acts as a parliament in exile, said, “even we are surprised by the pace and scope of the uprising,” and adds, “The army of the unemployed, hungry, shantytown and grave dwellers, the futureless youths, and the impoverished, who have been stripped of all their rights and liberties, have now risen up to take back their nation from the corrupt and criminal mullahs.” He predicted, “The day of reckoning is fast approaching.”