Iranian protesters angry at regime apologists

Demonstrators said they were united in strength and angry at the IRGC, which they accused of killing their loved ones and friends.

Iran protests 2 520 (photo credit: AP)
Iran protests 2 520
(photo credit: AP)
Days after Iran’s regime shot down an Ukrainian Airlines jetliner, killing 176 passengers and crew - the majority Iranian expats, anger has boiled over in Tehran against the government’s failures. Protests erupted over the downing of the commercial plane, with rumors that the government had used civilian air traffic as a shield against US reprisal attacks, and then inadvertently shot down one of the jets. It is part of months of protests in Iran and is in contrast to the narrative put forward by some apologists for Iran’s regime that assert the country shot down the plane due to “crossfire.”
Iran’s regime first asserted that the plane crashed due to mechanical problems, and then asserted that any implication that it was shot down was a “big lie.” By Saturday, the regime had switched narratives, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claiming that “human error at time of crisis causes by US adventurism led to disaster.” In this narrative, it was a “crossfire” that caused the plane to be shot down. Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members were merely shooting at what they thought was an American attack. Iran had fired ballistic missiles at US bases on January 8, and expected a US strike in response.
The “crossfire” narrative, seeking to blame the US or at least equally blame the US for the shooting down of the plane, caught on in some Western circles. This is because there is a large lobby in the West devoted to defending the Iranian regime, often out of a belief that Iran is somehow a state that Western governments should work with, or that it is so dangerous that it should be appeased.
However, on Saturday, large numbers of Iranians, initially from Amirkabir University of Technology, formerly called the Tehran Polytechnic, and then from other universities protested, the shooting down of the plane. For the demonstrators, these were more innocent lives that the regime had taken, after the 1,500 that Iran’s government killed during previous protests in 2019. This spontaneous outpouring of anger at Tehran’s government was surprising to regime officials, since they had hoped to use the US killing of IRGC leader Qasem Soleimani to unify the country. In the narrative of those like Zarif, Soleimani was a loved figure. Zarif said he met with him weekly, a reminder of Zarif’s earlier claim that “we are all IRGC.” But Zarif has been proven wrong time and time again by protesters in Iran who have sought to illustrate daylight between the average Iranians and the IRGC.
The slight differences in the regime is often portrayed as “hard-liners” and “moderates” in some narratives. In this theory, those like Zarif are “moderate” and those in the IRGC or Supreme Leader Khamenei’s circles are “hard.” But the reality is that the entire regime is composed of hard-liners, with only slight differences between the presidency and supreme leader’s office, while many average people, students, intelligentsia and others are not only moderate, but anti-regime and open to all the ideas and countries that the regime officially hates. Videos from Tehran shows students avoiding being forced to trample on Israeli and American flags, for instance. The connotation is clear: The regime may try to force the people to insult foreign countries, but students can choose with their feet not to. While riot police can shoot protesters, they can’t shoot students for simply walking one way and not another.
Iranian protesters who took to the streets Saturday called for Khamenei and others to step down. They said that they were united in strength and angry at the IRGC, which they accused of killing their loved ones and friends.
At the same time, many residents of regions in Iran continue to fear the regime’s reprisals. In the Kurdish region, two men – Houshmand Alipour and Mohammed Ostadghader – have been missing since August 2018, and their families fear that one may be executed by the regime. They are jailed in Sanandaj. Local activists say that they deserve sympathy and awareness for their plight. Their story is one of thousands who have been detained, executed or disappeared by the regime over the years and led to an emerging anger that links students in Tehran to laborers and others who have been protesting in the provinces.