“Leave Syria alone, think about us”, and “Death to Hezbollah”, protesters angrily chanted. Slogans were aimed at President Hassan Rouhani and the Supreme Leader, as well as the entire establishment.
According to reports coming from inside Iran, more than 8,000 people have been arrested, so far. In her article for The Daily Caller, Soona Samsami, the representative in the United States for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), writes that “more than 50 have been killed, as many as 5 under torture.” She adds that the government’s Security has begun knocking down doors and arresting “likely protesters” “as a precautionary measure.”
That the unrest erupted in cities and towns long described as bastions of support for the ruling mullahs shocked the regime. The protests were not led by the Tehran elite, but by ordinary Iranians: taxi drivers, teachers, workers, and nurses. Initially the protests were about economic grievances but quickly transformed into demands for an end to clerical rule.
This left the regime with many questions, such as how did the protest grow from an angry outburst into a nationwide movement with so much speed, and what does it mean for the future?
The people of Iran chanted en masse: “Death to Khamenei,” and “Death to Rouhani.” Samsami writes, “Clearly, there is a consensus that the only way they will ever see economic prosperity, political freedoms and personal dignity is by ousting their rulers.”
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed, “It was an American and Zionist conspiracy…” He said that rich Arabs provided the money, while the main Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq — “… the MEK” — were “the boots on the ground.”
Khamenei is correct in his concern regarding the MEK. The group used social media to connect and interconnect Iranians, which displayed their extensive network across Iran.
In fact, Khamenei has ordered his judiciary to “separate” those who may have joined the protests out of “excitement,” from MEK affiliates — meaning harsh sentences will be given to the group’s activists.
It is reported that Rouhani phoned his French counterpart to demand action against Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi. Rouhani told President Macron,
“We criticize the fact that a terrorist group has a base in France and acts against the Iranian people… and we await action from the French government against this terrorist group.” The French daily, Le Figaro, reported that Macron responded, “All political opposition [groups] are welcomed in France…”
“The hypocrites [this is a derogatory term used for the MEK by the regime] were calling on the people to come to the streets and they were leading and directing them,” said Kazem Mojtabaii, Commander of Security Forces in Qom Province.
The spokesperson of the parliamentary national security committee, Seyyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, warned, “These protests are run by MEK operatives…They lead the way; they have planned for the overthrow of the system; they go into action on the scene…They’re not done with their plans yet.”
Because economic and social grievances will continue, and Iranians, like all people, want to express themselves freely, they are indeed, “not done with their plans.”
According to Samsami, “At this watershed moment, the world must stand with Iran’s people, by demanding the release of all political prisoners, including the thousands arrested during the recent protests.” She adds, “The United States must also hold Iran’s rulers accountable, with sanctions cutting off their financial resources. If the regime is squeezed, the people and their organized opposition can and will bring about change in Iran.”