Why the protests ended in Iran, and is there any chance they may resume?

Observers in Iran said the demonstrations and protests were a clear indication of Iranian hatred toward a regime that is depriving the people of their basic rights and social freedoms.

People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in this still image from a video obtained by REUTERS (photo credit: REUTERS)
People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in this still image from a video obtained by REUTERS
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A month after the widespread grassroots protests against the government erupted in Iran, the country has gone quiet. The 10 days of gatherings around the country were met with an iron fist by the Iranian regime, resulting in more than two dozen protesters being killed.
Spontaneous protests against the high cost of goods, against President Hassan Rouhani’s government economic policies on unemployment and against widespread government corruption began in big cities, such as Mashhad in Khorasan province.
Iran protests grow, death toll mounts, January 2, 2018. (REUTERS)
But the protests quickly evolved into something more, targeting the whole regime and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s leadership, and spread to other cities and villages. The movement gained support from Iranians residing in other countries around the world. Some countries, such as the United States, Canada and Israel, also supported the Iranians and sympathized with them.
After just four days, however, the government ordered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to quell the protests via one of its wings – Sarallah. They started arresting, torturing, imprisoning and even killing people in various cities around the country.
According to statistics provided by human rights organizations, more than 3,700 were arrested, tortured and imprisoned. According to Iran’s judiciary spokesman, 25 people were killed.
Observers in Iran said the demonstrations and protests were a clear indication of Iranian hatred toward a regime that is depriving the people of their basic rights and social freedoms, looting the country instead of spending its wealth on improving the people’s quality of life, and supporting terrorists to destabilize the region.
People close to the protests said the fear of retribution, including arrest, torture and even death, prevented many Iranians from joining the protests. They recall the uprisings in 1999 and 2009, which were quelled by militias and military forces and resulted in the arrests of thousands, widespread torture in prison and the deaths of hundreds.
“You cannot deny the suppression by the regime’s militia forces, and due to this level of suppression and violence, thousands were arrested, tens were killed and hundreds were injured,” said a political activist who participated in demonstrations. “This level of suppression and violence by the Islamic Republic is against human rights laws. Torturing people who just defend their rights in such a brutal way is not justified in any way.”
A government employee who took part in the protests blamed the government’s strong arm for the waning of the protests.
“We protested for our rights, but should we be witnessing the torture and killing of our compatriots in the streets and prisons? Just because we have no power to stand against these criminals? They are armed to the teeth and we have nothing but an outcry that no one hears,” she said, adding that she was subsequently fired from her job on a trumped-up dress code violation.
“I have a rich country, but I live in poverty.
Why should our wealth be spent on those foreigners who kill many people? Why should women turn to prostitution and men turn to addiction? Are these the outcomes of a revolution that Khomeini has promised?” Another protester, a student, said that the lack of support from European governments contributed to the uprising’s failure.
“European countries do not stand against the regime, they even support it because they profit from Iran’s wealth, especially after the nuclear deal,” she said. “They let a criminal like Shahroudi come to their countries, be treated instead of being put on trial.”
She was referring to Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi – considered a successor to Khamenei – who received medical treatment in Germany for a brain tumor.
Critics accuse Shahroudi, who headed Iran’s judiciary system from 1999 to 2009, of imposing executions on 2,000 people, including adolescents.
He fled Germany earlier this month for Iran, amid criminal complaints filed against him for crimes against humanity.
“He’s one of the regime’s criminals who has signed thousands of death sentences.
This brutal support from European governments is a cruel move against the Iranian people and gives courage to the Islamic Republic to further suppress and put pressure on its people,” said the student.
A RESPECTED Iranian political scientist explained that the protests failed because the demonstrators were unable to present an alternative plan or demonstrate leadership.
“It is true that we are looking for a free and non-dictatorship society that cares about the national interests of our nation.
The Iranian hatred of the regime is a clear thing, but to achieve the above-mentioned goals, we need other alternatives that I didn’t see in the recent demonstrations and protests,” he said.
“People came out to the streets, chanted and fought, but they had no specific demands, plans. The absence of an influential leader for guiding people toward their goal and the lack of unity are the important reasons for the temporary failure of the protests.”
He added that the lack of consensus and leadership is the main symptom of the continued weakness of the protest movement and the government’s ability to suppress it.
“This lack of consensus leads to lack of mutual support, and we see the result.
We pay the price but get nothing. The regime’s political power is strengthened by the infighting of the people – that is why the Islamic Republic is in power.”
An Iranian journalist and sociologist said that even though the protests were put down, they will probably return, because nothing has changed on the ground.
“It is true that the situation is calm at present, but as long as the economic situation continues like this, there is always a possibility that protests will start again,” he said.
“These protests were unprecedented in Iran’s history – there were no protests like this in the beginning of the Islamic Revolution.
People from more than 100 cities and even villages joined the protests in different parts of the country. These protests showed the potential of poor people, and I think that this movement will continue, and there is a possibility that the middle class will join in the future.”
The political activist involved in the demonstrations agreed that the lack of unity contributed to the protests’ downfall.
“In clashes between thousands of people and government forces, no forces can stand against such a crowd if there is coordination between people and everyone wants to fight in his or her own way,” he said.
“The most important reasons the protests stopped were lack of coherence and a plan for immediate demands; lack of leadership and weak participation of other groups, such as students and labor unions and political parties; lack of theory for explaining the short- and long-term demands and goal; inadequacy in tactics and strategies in order to fight the regime; and the middle- and high-class indifference [of people who] do not try to achieve other dimensions of their rights, because of their relatively good economic status.”
An Iranian activist from a Kurdish party in the country agreed that a flawed strategy of the protests was not including more established sectors of Iranian society.
“There were no leaders to start the fight professionally. We need to educate leaders of Iranian society so they themselves will organize the protests,” he said.
“For example, people attacked banks, set seminaries on fire. This means that protests started with violence from the beginning, which motivated the government to suppress protesters. So with this kind of emotional actions leading the way, there will be no positive result and the crisis will remain. Iran’s regime has 39 years of experience following a revolution that began in this same violent way, and they know how to control it.”
Despite those qualifications, he expressed optimism that Iran hasn’t seen the end of its protest movement.
“I think that it will continue because we see that people are united in one thing – they want the regime to be overthrown.
“If this movement continues with a plan and also a leadership, it can lead to a revolution; and according to evidence, this will happen from inside of Iran, not from political parties outside Iran that only issue statements and do nothing. There is no hope for support from other countries.”
The writer is an Iranian journalist now living in Jerusalem.