In his article for Arab News, Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, and leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy writes that, “the recent anger and frustration was much more powerful and deep. People were risking their lives…”
And indeed they were, because when they chanted “Death to Khamenei,” they were committing a crime which carries the death penalty in Iran. People were also chanting, “Death to Rouhani,” and “Shame on you Khamenei, step down from power,” as well as “Death to the Dictator,” and “Death to the Islamic Republic.”
The regime takes no accountability, and instead blames foreign powers for the protests. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a statement accusing “enemies” of provoking the protests. Meanwhile, President Rouhani attempts to downplay them.
Comparing the recent wave of protests to those that occurred previously, such as the Green Movement in 2009 would be inaccurate, as people were not demanding limited reforms within the regime, rather they were demanding the clerical rulers step down. During the Green Movement, people were protesting against what they called a “rigged election.”
Dr. Rafizadeh points out that the protesters called out the Iranian regime’s vicious foreign policies. They tore down the banners of Iran’s Supreme leaders, Ruholla Khomeini and Khamenei. “People were demanding the regime stops squandering the wealth of the nation on terrorist and militia groups, as well as other dictators,” according to Dr. Rafizadeh. Chants were heard all over the nation — “Death to Hezbollah,” and “Leave Syria alone, think about us instead.”
These demonstrations had an economic aspect as well. The Iranian people were chanting that they live like beggars.
Dr. Rafizadeh writes, “Another element that made these recent protests so ground-breaking was the exceptional role played by women. In a country where women have very few rights, they were daring to stand up, despite the risks. In one case, a video posted online showed a woman standing in front of security forces and shouting ‘Death to Khamenei,’ prompting other men and women to chant the same after her.”
The recent protests were initiated by the working class, and people from all sectors of Iranian society to join in, unlike the Green Movement, when protesters were mainly from large urban cities like Tehran, and were mostly young and middle or upper class.
“(P)eople from all walks of life and of various ages, joined together as one voice. Even in cities that are known to be conservative, the bedrock and stronghold of the ruling clerics, people took to the streets and were demonstrating. The protests began in the conservative cities of Mashhad and Qum, which are home to mullahs, seminaries and an enormous amount of religious propaganda,” writes Dr. Rafizadeh.
Another difference from the Green Movement is that people were not asking for moderates to replace the hardliners. According to Dr. Rafizadeh, “Instead, they wanted the downfall of the whole clerical rule.” In fact, the Iranian people were chanting “hardliners, moderates, the game is now over.”
The regime would be correct in fearing the power of these protests.