The current, on-going demonstrations started in Mashhad, a conservatively religious city, and the birthplace of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Mashad is also the city where some 160,000 angry investors lost their life savings in an reportedly fraudulent residential project. Suddenly, banks owned by the Revolutionary Guards were closed down, and all deposits were wiped out.
Add to the the fact that many companies haven’t paid employees their salaries for up to a year. As well, after the burning of the Saudi Embassy a few years ago, Shiite tourists from the Gulf region ceased to visit, forcing the closing of hundreds of businesses.
The people of Iran face high unemployment and poverty. Hungry people are calling for a new revolution. They appear to perceive Khamenei as a dictator who lives in luxury while his people suffer. Demonstrators chant slogans that wish him and President Hassan Rouhani death.
Mashad is governed by Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda and Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi. Alamolhoda displays his style of authority by advising the authorities, “If the law-enforcement agencies do not punish the troublemakers, the enemies will publish tapes and pictures telling the world that the regime of the Islamic Republic has lost its revolutionary spirit in Mashhadm,” instead of attempting to calm the crowd. Raisi participated in, and lost, in the last presidential election. He represents the supreme leader’s allies and the hardline movement.
Soon demonstrations broke out in Isfahan, the third largest city in Iran. Teachers and retirees demanded their salaries, and their money that was lost in the failing banks and projects. The city supported Khomeini during the revolution in the late seventies, and was a decisive factor in its victory. Tens of thousands of sons of Isfahan were killed in the Iran-Iraq war. One protester claims to have lost four sons in Iraq, and a fifth in Syria. He complains that instead of rewarding him, they took away his pension. He is now unable to support what is left of his family. According to official statistics, some 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line and 40 percent of them need food aid. This totals 60 percent of the 80 million Iranians.
Millions live in shantytowns. Inflation rate levels are exceeding 20 percent, and currency is losing value. Crime rates, drug addiction, and prostitution are on the rise.
Slogans used by demonstrators summarize the sentiments of the Iranian people regarding their regime’s foreign policies and the devastating repercussions on development, economy and society. Many read:
– “Neither for Gaza, nor for Lebanon, my life is only for Iran,”
– “Forget Syria, remember us!”
– “May your soul rest in peace, Reza Shah,”
– “freedom or death,”
– “Release political prisoners,”
– “Leaders live in paradise, people live in Hell,”
– “Death to Hezbollah.”
According to an article by Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi, a Saudi journalist and writer based in Jeddah, for Al Arabiya, “While austerity measures worsened an already tough life, the Syrian regime received $20 billion to kill its own people, and Hizbollah gets $1,200 billion a year to do the regime’s dirty business.”
One protester declared, “We give an Afghan, Pakistani or Arab terrorist up to $1500 a month, with accommodation, food and transportation, while I live in a shack, and my hard-earned income of $250 is delayed or stolen.”
Regarding misconduct in Iran’s government, Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently alleged the existence of 63 bank accounts for the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, as well as the corruption of his brother, Ali Larijani, the Parliament Speaker.
In fact, Dr. Batarfi says that many officials in ministries, banks, charities, and religious institutions have been found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, sexual harassment and child abuse. He writes, “Worse, the leadership, including the Supreme Leader, has protected and defended the guilty and tried to hid their crimes.”
The demonstrations have spread to over 60 towns, so far. Iran is awakening. Iranians are demanding their freedom, democracy and rights. However, it is coming at a high cost, as CNN reports that the death toll from the anti-government protests has climbed to 21.