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memri
January 3, 2018 No.
1368

Uprising In Iran 2017-2018 – Update

After seven days of mass demonstrations across Iran, in major cities and with the participation of protestors who appear to be middle class, not only in smaller, far-flung cities with the participation of working class people, it can be said that the uprising has the following characteristics:

  • The uprising is clearly against the regime of the Islamic Republic. The regime is trying to neutralize this aspect of it, by ostensibly consenting to the holding of demonstrations demanding improved economic conditions, but protestors are demanding the following: "death to the dictator," "death to Khamenei," the end of the regime of the Islamic Republic, no compulsory hijab, no more sending of Iranian wealth to Syria and Gaza (with the slogan "No Syria, no Gaza, my life is for Iran"), and more. On social media, the following demands are circulating: a referendum, abolition of the regime of the Rule of the Jurisprudent, free elections, no compulsory hijab, fair distribution of wealth, an independent judiciary, a free press, separation of religion and state, and gender equality.


Poster of protestors' slogans circulating on social media. Source: Twitter.com/pessarbad/status/948452946232119296, January 3, 2018.

The following MEMRI TV clip, published November 20, 2017, shows a protest in Tehran that was a precursor to the current uprising:

Protesters In Tehran: Our Money Is Sent To Iraq, Lebanon, And Syria, While Our Men Steal And Our Women Sell Their Bodies Out Of Poverty – November 20, 2017

  • This popular uprising has no known leadership that speaks in its name. On January 3, 2018, announcements of cities, locations, and times of the day's demonstrations, signed by an entity calling itself "Iran Azadi ["Free Iran"] – The Headquarters for Coordinating the Demonstrations," were circulated on social media, but no more details about this entity are known.  


Twitter.com/iranazadi1395/status/948478702383456258, January 3, 2018.

  • The Iranian regime has not called out the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to suppress the uprising; it has assigned this task to the Basij and the police, apparently out of fear that extensive use of force, as in 2009, would fan the flames of the popular uprising against it.

  • The most prominent figures in the reformist camp, which was banished from power and from public life, have joined the regime's attempts to calm the people.[1] The regime is trying to use them as a bridge to the protestors in order to prevent the uprising from spreading, and the Interior Ministry has, to this end, called a meeting of all the parties in Iran, including the banned reformist parties, to discuss the economic problems raised by the protestors.  

  • In contrast to the uprising in Syria, there has been no known significant defection of security personnel to the protestors. The tweeted clip below shows a policeman explaining to protestors that he did not "become a soldier to fight" his own people, and is applauded by the crowd:


Source: Twitter.com/ArminNavabi/status/948001957884542977, January 1, 2018.

  • During the first days of the uprising, no member of the senior leadership of the ideological camp addressed the situation publicly. The only political figure to appear was President Hassan Rohani, to deliver a conciliatory message expressing understanding of the protestors' motives but trying to set restrictions for the protests. For his part, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called a conference of families of martyrs, and in his statements to them accused Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S. of being behind the uprising.

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei Blames Popular Uprising On Iran's Enemies: 'All Those Who Oppose The Iranian Regime... Have United'

  • President Rohani blamed the regime for the economic crisis, and explained that most of the country's budget – that is, 200 trillion of a total 360 trillion toman (360 trillion toman is about $100 billion) – is not under his control at all.[2] This means that most of the national budget is controlled by Supreme Leader Khamenei and the IRGC.

  • In the regime, a dispute has broken out over the question of who is to blame for the uprising. The ideological camp blames President Rohani and his economic policy, which includes cutting direct public subsidies and raising taxes and the prices of basic commodities, and accuses him of corruption.[3] Rohani, like his mentor, the late Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has spoken out against Supreme Leader Khamenei's and the IRGC's policy of exporting the revolution and establishing Iranian hegemony in the region, which has for years required that tremendous resources go to military development and to funding proxies instead of to the Iranian public. The MEMRI TV clips below show statements by Rafsanjani on this subject and Khamenei's rebuttal:

Iranian Expediency Council Head Rafsanjani Protests Against Regime's Oppression of Its Citizens – January 22, 2016

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei Criticizes Top Political Rivals: Favoring Talks Over Missiles Constitutes Treason – March 19-29, 2016

The MEMRI TV clips below show the regime's massive investment in building missile bases with long-range missiles under Iranian cities,

Iran Unveils Bases with Long-Range Missiles under Iranian Cities – October 14, 2015

Iran Launches Ballistic Missiles From Underground Silo – March 8-9, 2016

The MEMRI TV clips below show military development outside Iran's borders, as reflected in statements by  IRGC commander Ali Jafari and Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah:

IRGC Commander Jafari: We Support Resistance to U.S. and Israel in Syria and Elsewhere in the Region – April 21, 2014

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah: We Have Received Moral, Political, and Material Support From Iran Since 1982 – February 6, 2012  02/06/12

  • While the Iranian regime accuses the West, particularly the U.K. and U.S., of directing the uprising, the fact is that only U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have spoken out clearly against the Iranian regime and against its human rights violations.[4] European leaders have said little. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May expressed support for the Iranian regime by asking it to consider the protestors' demands;[5] French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern about the numbers of protestor casualties and called for restraint on the part of the regime,[6] and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel likewise expressed concern about the deaths of protesters and appealed to the Iranian government to respect people's rights.[7] In the MEMRI TV clip below, Khamenei blames the uprising on Iran's enemies; in the one below that, from 2009, he derides protestors:

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran Friday Sermon: Those Idiots Thought They Could Organize a Velvet Revolution in Iran, Like in Georgia – June 19, 2009

  • Western media coverage of the uprising in Iran bears no resemblance to the Western media coverage of the Arab Spring. The latter was comprehensive, in-depth, and sympathetic, while the former is neither extensive nor sympathetic to the protestors. This has led to demonstrations in London in front of BBC headquarters.


Source: Twitter.com/KavehAbbasian/status/948342990745034752, January 2, 2018.

Assessment

The Iranian regime's blocking of Internet access and social media is likely to negatively impact the level of public participation in the protests, even though there is no sign so far that they are dying down.

The regime is expressing willingness for dialogue with political groups that it had previously banned from public activity, but the protestors are shouting slogans against the reformists and do not see them as their spokesmen. Therefore, this course of action will not lead to calm.

The fact that the uprising has, at this stage, no known public leadership that can leverage the various political messages will hamper its continuation.

 

*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iranian Media Project; Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI.

 

[1] Past reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who is banned by the regime from giving interviews or leaving Iran, reiterated the Iranian regime's stance at a political gathering of the reformist Combatant Clergy party, and even accused the protestors of murder: "Opportunistic agents and disturbers of the public peace are implementing the criminal goals of the enemy with disturbances of peace and security, destruction of public property, denigration of the sacred values of the religion and the nation, and even murder of innocents." His statements supporting the regime were tweeted by the BBC. Ata'ollah Mohajerani, a reformist minister in the Khatami government, tweeted: "The BBC and VOA are covering the protests with passion and great noise. Had they known Iran and the Iranian people, they would have understood that this wave [of protests] has no basis." Kayhan, London, January 2, 2018.

[2] Asr-e Iran (Iran), January 1, 2018.

[3] It should be noted that Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that the ideologues' incitement against President Rohani and his government had caused the unrest to develop rapidly from economic protests into a popular uprising with a clear political agenda. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7256, Popular Uprising Against The Iranian Regime And Its Policy – 2017, December 31, 2017.  

[4] U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that sanctions are one tool the U.S. has to respond to Iran's behavior and that the U.S. is "watching reports very closely of any potential human rights abuses." Associated Press, January 2, 2018.

[5] A spokesperson for Prime Minister May said: "We believe there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues that the protesters are raising, and we’re looking to the Iranian authorities to permit that." Reuters.com, January 2, 2018.

[6] Elysee.fr, January 2, 2018.

[7] Reuters, January 1, 2018.