The Iranian Regime’s Successful Use ‘Divide and Conquer’ Against Its People

By INU Staff

INU - In Mashhad, in 1992, religious authorities in charge of the shrine of the 8th Imam Reza decided they wanted to enlarge their compound. The destruction of an adjacent residential area of dilapidated homes and shacks called Mahalle Tollab was necessary, which resulted in a riot. This surprised authorities, who realized that they must weaken the protesters’ solidarity. They created factions by announcing, “The people whose houses were seized and destroyed demand to be distinguished from provocateurs and saboteurs.” The “provocateurs and saboteurs” were then identified and hanged, which acted as a message to everyone else. In less than two weeks, the protests dwindled away.

The expression, “Divide and Rule” is believed to have originated with by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great more than 2,000 years ago. The regime repeatedly uses this strategy. For example, during the riots in Shiraz and Arak in 1992 and Iranshahr in 1995, the protests were quelled by blaming the unrest on a criminal few, while authorities paid attention to the complaints of the “genuine poor.”

Examine what followed the recent wave of protests that began in Mashhad and spread across the country to more than 80 towns and cities. President Rouhani said at a press conference, “The protesters not only have economic demands but they want changes to foreign policy, regional policy and the way the country is run.” In this way he paid attention to the complaints of the poor. Rouhani signaled that he was aware of the incendiary slogans: “Death to the Dictator”, and “Death to Khamenei” and the a criticism of Iran’s support of Hezbollah: “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice myself for Iran”, as well as the slogans in support of the return of the Pahlavi monarchy.

In response, the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) was ordered to assess ordinary people’s satisfaction with the government. Additionally, the presidential administration released the three-year-old survey that was conducted by the ISPA’s head of strategic studies, Hessameddin Ashna, and published by the Iranian President’s Center for Strategic Studies. The survey showed, among other things, that about half of Iranians (49 percent) thought that woman’s hijab should be a matter of personal choice.

Some dissent is tolerated by the regime. Labor researcher Zahra Ayatollahi reports that there have been over 900 picket lines and strikes in the past 11 months alone. Still,
when dissent grow too strident, the technique of putting it down remained the same. A very public identification of the so-called agitators and provocateurs is followed by security forces quietly arresting the protests’ leaders one by one, as the politicians appear to pay attention to the pain and frustration of the working poor.

The principle of “Divide and Conquer” is found in many Iranian folk tales. If the regime is allowed to continue to use it against the people, bad governance, arbitrary arrests, and social injustice will continue, too.