A potential game changer
- ‘May the regime fall? Yes, it may!’
The murder, on September 16, of a young woman arrested by the Iranian Morality Police for not covering her head in the officially required manner sparked an uprising by the Iranian people demanding the end of the clerical dictatorship and the installing of democracy in the country.
Iranians have challenged their own repressive forces before, but this time they are doing it in a massive, continuous, national way – despite bullets, despite hundreds fatalities and tens of thousands arrests – in their call for a democratic, republican form of government.
The clerical officials have acknowledged that these protests are national and have included an organised direction by the resistance units of the Council of National Resistance of Iran, or its main component, the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (the hypocrites, according to the official, derogatory name). They also repeat the traditional mantra of the ‘American-Zionist-Saudi’ conspiracy, but it now sounds so hollow that even high-ranking officials of the regime are publicly distancing themselves from these declarations.
Iranian authorities have repeatedly attacked Iraqi Kurdistan, targeting Iranian Kurdish refugees in Erbil and Sulaymaniah. They also openly threatened to target Iranians affiliated with the Iranian Resistance in Albania as retortion for the popular revolt in Iran. The repression has been particularly violent in both Kurdistan and Baluchistan, where authorities have committed indiscriminate killings of civilians.
In spite of the repression and the repeated assurances by the officials in charge that they were able to quash popular discontent – the last one to date by Khamenei on November the 22nd – Iranians from the all social and ethnic spectrums continue to show their will to reverse the dictatorship.
The divorce between the Iranian people and the oppressing clergy is a fact that even those who have stubbornly campaigned to appease the Iranian clergy are now admitting, and this divorce is so sharp that the question and answer raised by a Portuguese journalist (Santos, 2022) makes the outmost sense, ‘Iran: may the regime fall? Yes, it may!’.
The answer implies a set of possibilities. Herewith, we will explore those most important to consider.
- Business as usual
The hard-core Iranian regime leadership seems confident that business-as-usual will be re-established after the present turmoil, as it happened in the past.
In the external front, it is true the regime is extremely isolated, but it is also true it had been quite isolated in the past yet managed to bypass this situation. On the internal front, however, there is something new in the present conditions.
In an interview with Simay Azadi (NCRI TV network), Hadi Roshanravan – member of the Security and Counterterrorism Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – made the case for the exhaustion of all the instruments used so far by the regime to answer protests. Whereas the previous national uprising, in 2019, was contained after a bloodbath among protesters that caused an estimated number of 1500 fatalities, the present one is continuing after several massacres took place in several Iranian cities.
The declarations and propaganda by the Iranian Supreme leader, available in his website, and in various social media (for, in spite of often sanctioning non-violent opinions, the main social media channels do not hinder the genocidal Iranian regime’s propaganda), seem ever more divorced from reality, referring to a fantasy world wherein the global Zionist conspiracy is permanently seeking to find new so as tricks to derail support by the Iranian people to the regime. In this imaginary world there is no place for compromise and the sole response is for repression forces to smash protests as they did in the past.
A growing number of regime officials are however conscious that no level of repression will pacify Iranians. The aging spiritual leader and his close associates at the top regime councils occupy the main leverages of power and do not seem to offer a trustworthy prospect of power.
Otherwise, the use by the regime of the so-called ‘reformists’ to keep discontent within manageable limits does not seem to be a viable option. The ‘Iranian Reform Front’s call for a ‘referendum’ on the regime received no visible support. The fact that the emblematic and shadow figure of this front, former President Mohammad Khatami, considered regime change impossible, made clear the hollowness of their proposal – and his deep divorce with the Iranian people.
The most emblematic symptom of the polarisation within Iranian society is the recent, filmed declaration by the nephew of the Supreme Leader – Farideh Moradkhani – posted by her brother Doctor Mahmoud Moradkhani, an exiled, political dissident doctor living in France, shortly after she was re-arrested.
In 2019, Doctor Moradkhani’s declarations showed that in spite of his opposition to the regime and its principle of religious rule, he still condemned Western sanctions. By contrast, the post by his imprisoned sister he now made public demands far more radical sanctions than those used so far, and repeats the main traditional demand made by the National Council of Resistance of Iran:
‘The free and brave Iranians will topple this oppressive and tyrannical regime on their own. What is needed is to refrain from supporting the regime that in November 2019, murdered thousands of Iranians in four days, while the world was watching from the side-lines. This, and similar catastrophes, constitute a mark of shame on the forehead of humanity. The time has come that, as a symbolic act [of solidarity], all the freedom-seeking countries recall their representatives from Iran, and expel from their countries all the representatives and attachés of this blood-thirsty regime. This will be a show of solidarity with the freedom-loving Iranian public.’
The international community has indeed strengthened its criticisms of the regime. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council established a ‘Fact-finding Mission to Investigate Alleged Human Rights Violations in Iran Related to the Protests that Began on 16 September 2022’ by an unusually strong majority. On his side, the President of the European Parliament for the first time called the European diplomacy to end the business as usual attitude towards the regime – and then announced the suspension of all contacts with said regime.
There is still a long way for the international community to reverse its accommodation policy with Iran’s internal repression and external expansion – and much that will happen within the country depends on Western changes of policy.
A lot will also depend on Russian successes (or lack thereof) in invaded Ukraine. Russian support was crucial for Iran to withhold its upper hand in Syria, and Iranian support has also been important for the current Russian aggression. If Russia’s present adventure fails, this will have significant repercussions for Iran.
China’s support to the regime has also been quite important. However, Chinese full engagement was unable to stop the international condemnation of Iran at the Human Rights Council. Otherwise, its economic expansion through the Belt and Road Initiative has clearly lost stream while the regime is for the first time in decades facing open signs of dissatisfaction with its sanitary purity policy and the end of prosperity and rapid growth.
- Between Syrian style onslaught and Regime change
The Syrian onslaught is the largest we have witnessed in the present century. Regarding other humanitarian catastrophes largely resulting from fanatic Islamism, such as the ones of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Syria is different in the sense it is not connected with a deficient action by the West but rather to Western inaction. It holds similarities with the ravaging of Chechnya by Putin’s Russia, but on another scale and undertaken in tandem with an international militia network led by the Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
According to official figures by the UNHCR, the conflict forced 13 million people to run away from their homes; according to the UN, it killed over 350.000 victims,. Other than the dimension of the humanitarian catastrophe, the ravage in Syria made use of some sophisticated war tools previously used by Iran in Iraq.
The first is the toxic polarisation that I personally witnessed and extensively reported following my experience in Iraq. From the very start of the invasion, Iran managed to play in both sides of the conflict. Iran lobbied extensively for the invasion of Iraq. It fuelled most of the disinformation campaign regarding the ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It worked in tandem with the invading forces supposedly to neutralise ‘Baathist resistance’, thanks to such forces it occupied key positions on the Iraqi new state apparatus .And, at the very same time, Iran also created and animated Al-Qaeda within Iraq; denounced denounced US expansionism and war; and promoted terrorism and agitation against Western presence.
The Western establishment has severe difficulties in understanding these toxic polarisation tactics which allow the enemy to play simultaneously on both sides of the conflict. The West also let an extensive, Iranian-funded disinformation apparatus to gain prominence within its own institutional framework. Said apparatus was extremely efficient in blurring or even falsifying facts on the ground, making it almost impossible to understand what was really going on.
Nothing was more symbolic of the success of Iran’s toxic polarisation and disinformation tactics than the West’s will to persecute the main Iranian opposition group – the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known by its Farsi initials, MEK – by bombing their refuge centres in Iraq and blacklisting the group.
This strategy also allowed the nearly complete control of Iraq by Iran, through both militias on the ground and through the control of government institutions. Thus a notorious member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Nouri al-Maliki, even occupied the post of Prime-Minister.
The crisis of Iranian control of Iraq happened despite Western action – occuring when the mass of the Shia Muslim population – whose weight in the Iraqi population had been argued by the West as a reason to give the control of the country to Iran – rebelled against the Iranian occupation.
The Iranian regime is using the same tried-and-tested tactics to face the present revolution. On October the 25th the Caliphate (ISIS) called the authorship of a terror attack to a Shia Shrine in Shiraz. Whereas the West apparently believed the Iranian authorities’ victim role, the Iranian people did not buy into the narrative – and blamed the Iranian regime.
The Quincy Institute – presently, the most important Iranian regime officious lobby in the US – tried desperately to promote the Iranian authorities’ narrative by accusing the press of inventing a ‘false-flag’ understanding; however, so far it has been unsuccessful. Of course, this was not a ‘false-flag’ Caliphate attack, as neither were many others done by the Caliphate’s predecessors; they emerged from the cooperation between these two apparently irreconcilable enemies.
The regime also invested heavily in the World Football Championship, with a heavy presence in Qatar by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in the guise of football fans, including young women with Western sexy dressing. It even invented a supposed act of disengagement by the football team regarding the regime by not chanting the hymn of the country – whereas there is no tradition of the sports team to do so.
Although this disinformation act passed unscratched in most Western press, the Iranian people did not buy it, and massively celebrated the regime’s team elimination from the World Cup.
Several other manipulation campaigns are in the making and or are predicted to unfold in the future, namely the promotion of conflicts between different ethnic groups; campaigns to tarnish the image of real opposition forces through fake dissidents and false oppositionists, and the use of external terrorist groups targeting religious or popular symbols.
It is also expectable to see the full weight of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ international brigades – which include Afghan and Pakistani nationals organised in the Fatemiyoun brigades, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Ansar Allah, and several Iraqi and Syrian militias – to be called into the war effort undertaken by the regime against the Iranian people.
Therefore, a so-called ‘Syrian scenario’ cannot be put aside. The Iranian people are showing a high degree of resilience, based on the experience of decades of information manipulation by the regime. It remains to be seen to what point will Iran’s regime be able to count on Russian and Chinese engagement and support. Much, however, will also depend on the West’s capacity to avoid being manipulated.
Otherwise, if the high maturity level shown by the Iranian people in the present revolution is accompanied by a responsible and knowledgeable stance by Western countries, there are real chances to see democracy established in Iran.
The consequences of such a development in the region and in the world at large can hardly be overstated.