A year after Khamenei’s bloody crackdown on Iranian protesters - analysis

The fragility of Iran’s clerical regime signifies that more insurrections against Khamenei’s rule are on the horizon.

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, July 2020 (photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR)
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, July 2020
(photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR)
The insurrection against the regime of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that began on November 15, 2019, coupled with the Islamic Republic’s murder of the champion wrestler Navid Afkari this past September, reveal for all to see the fragility of the theocracy and its war on working-class Iranians.
Khamenei’s order to his security apparatus last year to “do whatever it takes to stop them [the protesters]” marked the onset of absolute clarity about his long-standing campaign to enthrone the theocratic state above the working men and women of Iran.
The supreme leader employed a spectacular level of violence in an effort to dismantle the growing nationwide revolt against rising fuel prices and, in some areas, against the very existence of the regime. Less than two weeks into the mass protests, the regime had murdered roughly 1,500 demonstrators, Reuters reported.
The clerical regime imposed a nationwide Internet blackout. The protests spread across more than 100 cities and towns during November. The nationwide insurrection against the regime is known as the Aban protests – a reference to the Persian month during which the insurrection unfolded. An estimated 7,000 people (including women and children) were arrested during the mass demonstrations.
My Foundation for Defense of Democracies colleague Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert, wrote on Friday in a policy paper that “Iranian officials continue to talk about the danger protests pose to regime security... Protesters now appear more willing to call for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, yet the regime has proven that its security forces remain largely cohesive and capable of responding with greater violence and intimidation when needed.”
“In contrast to major uprisings in 2009 and 1999, the post-2017 protests do not champion Iran’s domestic opposition figures,” he added. “As such, they may be the death knell for the country’s aging and marginalized reform movement. Moreover, protesters are taking to the streets more often, and in so doing, they are disproving myths about the resolve of Iranian protesters since the Green Movement was repressed over a decade ago.”
All this illustrates not only the sheer fragility of a regime that loathes its citizens but Khamenei’s abandonment of his phony anti-poverty rhetoric in favor of preserving his theocratic dictatorship.
In a speech in late November 2019 to the Basij militia force that quashed the insurrection, Khamenei said: “Recently, ‘downtrodden’ is referred to as the poor and vulnerable people; no, the Quran does not consider the downtrodden to be this, the Quran says… the downtrodden is the imams and potential leaders of the world of humanity; This is the meaning of the downtrodden people: those who will be the heirs of the earth and all the creatures of the earth; The downtrodden person is potentially the caliph of God on earth, potentially the Imam and leader of the entire humanity.”
Khamenei’s rhetoric, like that of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is peppered with words such as “justice” and “oppressed.”
The emancipatory language of the Khamenei’s regime has a Marxist flavor to it but its aim is not to lift the “downtrodden” (mostazafin) class in the Islamic Republic (or across the Middle East) out of the ranks of poverty. Take the Iranian regime’s funneling of an estimated $700 million annually to Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based terrorist movement that has vastly contributed to the crushing of Lebanon’s standard of living.
The judicial murder of the champion Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari in September embodies the regime’s assault on Iran’s working class. Afkari, a skilled plasterer who was hanged because he protested against regime corruption in 2018, has become perhaps the world’s most famous wrestler.
“There is not one shred of evidence in this damned case that shows I’m guilty. But they don’t want to listen to us. I realized they are looking for a neck for their rope,” Afkari said about his then-slated execution.
The US is slated to impose sanctions this week on Iranian officials involved in the bloody November crackdown on protesters, according to a Reuters report. While the US has delivered crippling economic sanctions (including human rights punitive sanctions) against the clerical regime, the EU has remained on the sidelines.
The major European powers – France, UK, Germany – seek not to jeopardize the Iran nuclear deal. Critics argue that the intense devotion to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the Iran atomic accord, comes at the expense of promoting human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The incoming Biden administration is slated to reengage Iran’s regime on nuclear diplomacy. The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal because it guaranteed Iran’s regime a pathway to building an atomic weapons device and permitted its development of sophisticated missiles. Behnam Ben Taleblu argues in his article that “the president-elect should not ignore the human rights situation.”
Large swathes of ordinary Iranians will continue to hold Khamenei’s regime in contempt based on the series of mass demonstrations over the last 11 years. Many pressing questions abound. For example, will the EU and the Biden administration mirror then-Western support for democracy activism in the now-defunct communist states of Eastern Europe and support the democracy aspirations of Iranians moving forward?
The fragility of Iran’s clerical regime signifies that more insurrections against Khamenei’s rule are on the horizon.