Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist and leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, writes in his article for Arab News, “Some onlookers were shocked by the much bolder slogans of this uprising than the one in 2009.” Indeed, the outrage over economic hardships and wealth disparities escalated into calls for the expulsion of President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as for the dismantling of the system of clerical rule.
The regime blames the unrest on everything “except its own incompetence and disregard for the interests of the Iranian public,” says Dr. Rafizadeh, who adds, “Khamenei identified the leading Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), as a main contributor, doing his best to conceal its popular appeal by describing it as part of a ‘triangle of enemies’ that had planned, financed and carried out the latest uprising. He also identified ‘Americans and Zionists’ as the masterminds behind protesters’ call for regime change.”
Dr. Rafizadeh criticizes Khamenei’s claims that Arab adversaries put up cash, while the opposition acted as foot soldiers, and cites the lack of evidence of such a conspiracy. He says that Khamenei was attempting to underplay the significance of domestic support for regime change — but this effort did not diminish the admission that the MEK provided many of the activists for a protest movement that spread across nearly the entire country.
“Since its establishment in 1979, the Iranian regime has resorted to blaming foreign ‘enemies’ for its domestic problems and the population’s dissatisfaction with it,” Dr. Rafizadeh writes. This is a tactic that Iranian authorities use to suppress domestic opposition — blaming foreign powers allows the regime to avoid taking responsibility.
The secretary of Iran’s clerical Guardian Council, Ahmad Jannati, said that the uprising resulted from a relatively small faction of committed opponents, who deceived a much larger population of demonstrators to endorse the cause.
However, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and joined chants of “death to the dictator.” Dr. Majid Rafizadeh writes, “People do not express support for regime change in their home country on a whim.” He concludes that if the opposition was a “leading voice in the uprising, it must be a leading voice for the Iranian people in general.”
Therefore, however inadvertently, Khamenei admitted that there is a substantial threat to the regime’s future. Independent analysts have underscored this threat, and say a violent crackdown on the uprising will only engender more protests. This is especially certain, if no serious measures are undertaken to address the people’s economic, political, and social demands.
The regime acknowledged that some 3,700 people have been arrested. The judiciary warned that death sentences may await those deemed responsible. But, these actions will most likely not uproot the opposition’s deep integration into Iranian society.
“The world should thus expect to see another surge of protests, and with the opposition still in place as a major organizational force, it stands to reason that the demands will continue to escalate,” writes Dr. Majid Rafizadeh.