Iran’s crackdown plan: 113 hours without Internet

After the internet was shut down various accounts said that around 100 peopole were killed in the first 48 hours.

People stop their cars in a highway to show their protest for increased gas price in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS)
People stop their cars in a highway to show their protest for increased gas price in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The first day of the protests in Iran caught the country by surprise. They had been bubbling along for days last week, but on the afternoon of November 15, it burst forth. From Ahwaz to Mashhad to Shiraz, tens of thousands took to the streets. Iran’s regime was initially caught off guard by the mass protest. Buildings were burned, and security forces did not respond. The regime cut off the Internet and began shooting people 24 hours later.
For 113 hours, from November 16 until Thursday, Iran has been in the dark. Net Blocks, which tracks Internet connectivity, shows that at the 113th hour, a small return to connectivity had begun in Iran. Some users says they had been able to get network access. Some access was restored to 8%. It was unclear if the restoration would grow.
The protests had begun peacefully, but there was a huge wellspring of anger at the regime. People claimed their money has been wasted on foreign wars and called for the end of the rule by the Ayatollahs. By the morning of November 16, in the rain and snow that blanketed Tehran and the north, people came out to block roads and highways. Banks were burned. Gasoline stations attacked. The people were angry over fuel price hikes, but also much more. Hundreds of towns and cities were affected. Mass traffic jams were caught on video. Even Iranian media, such as IRNA, reported on the protests. Clearly the government had not yet ordered total media silence.
The regime, backed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij militia, with its theocrats calling the shots, began to move against the Internet and then against the protesters in a systematic way. The only way it knows how is to use force, but it must balance that with not wanting to spark a real civil conflict.
The problem with Iran’s regime is that while it is authoritarian, it is not a system of total control. Iranians have some freedoms, more than in the most totalitarian states. The regime uses a variety of methods to control people, and brutality is not the only one. It understands the carrot and the stick. It understands that there are many complexities in Iran and that the public is educated. It also knows that its pure propaganda of always blaming the US doesn’t work.
After the Internet was shut down, various accounts said that around 100 people were killed in the first 48 hours. By the 100th hour, estimates said more. There were stories of major battles for the streets in some areas as the system sought to regain control. The regime also said this openly. A deputy of the IRGC’s Islamic governing council said that “people will not be allowed to strike the system.” The Basij said that the protests had been crushed in only six hours. Then why was the Internet still out three days later?
Abdulrahim Mousavi, commander of Iran’s army, warned against stagnation in the face of “arrogance,” a term that usually means the United States. In a sense this was a warning that the country must be vigilant against the US during this time of internal strife.
The closing of the Internet was embarrassing during the meeting of a foundation dealing with technology. At the meeting, an official said the Internet “disruption” would be solved soon, and blamed it on the high-level of messages being sent. In Shiraz, the government organized a pro-regime rally on Thursday to confront the protesters in order to show that “the people” opposed the “riots.”
Tehran felt a real challenge by the November 15 protests. It was clear that much of the capital city came to a standstill. Maps where people could indicate road blockages showed must of the city on shutdown. Protests were larger in western Iran, particularly in the partly Arab Ahwaz region, and also in some Kurdish areas. It was also very large in central Iranian cities, less so in the east.
Tehran videos from November 17 showed that police had flooded the city. Live fire could be heard on the few videos that were able to make it out of Iran that day. In Shiraz, for instance, gunfire could be heard. Nevertheless at night people continued to confront the regime, with some street clashes caught on video.
Symbols of the religious establishment were also attacked, as evidenced by photos from at least one seminary that was burned on November 18. Reports in Tehran said many students at Tehran University took part. Live fire continued to be used on the 18 and 19, including in the Kurdish areas such as Kermashah city. Basij forces enforced curfews in some cities.
Whatever the results of the five days of protests, the response by the regime – a total blackout of the Internet – was designed to cut off communication between people so that each protest could be confronted in each city by the security forces.
The degree of popular anger is clear. The country has been seething for 10 years. People remember the protests over these years and it is clear that many oppose the regime’s messages about the need to waste resources in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and among Palestinian groups. The aging Ayatollahs and leadership – many accused recently of corruption – have shown they are incapable of confronting the demands of people. The early chaotic response showed that the protests also have sympathy in some areas of the media and in higher levels of government. The attacks directed at symbols of the regime show that the protesters also do not have fear. Five days of shooting them and trying to crush them might succeed temporarily, but overall, the government faces a long-term struggle against its own people.