Iran's future: Do protests have the mullahs on tenterhooks? - opinion

What is remarkable this time is that there is talk of partition plans, civil war, destroying and breaking up the country and other things that Iranian leaders have not mentioned before.

 SHOPS ARE closed following riots and the call of protesters to close the markets, in Tehran, last month. Anger has shifted to the markets, which are considered the backbone of the economy, says the writer.  (photo credit: WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
SHOPS ARE closed following riots and the call of protesters to close the markets, in Tehran, last month. Anger has shifted to the markets, which are considered the backbone of the economy, says the writer.
(photo credit: WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)

After more than two months of sustained and intensifying popular protests, the Iranian regime is responding in a way that simultaneously reflects a growing level of anger and concern.

Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian recently accused Israel and Western intelligence agencies of trying to divide the country and instigate a civil war, stating that “Iran is not Libya or Sudan.” Iranians “will not fall for these plans.”

These accusations signal a shift in the Iranian regime’s response. Since the assassination of Mahsa Amini, the young Kurdish woman who blasted the protests, it has repeatedly accused Western countries and possibly Israel of supporting, instigating or even planning the protests. In one of his speeches, the Supreme Leader even accused the United States and the West of starting a war against his country.

But what is remarkable this time is that there is talk of partition plans, civil war, destroying and breaking up the country and other things that Iranian leaders have not mentioned before.

 A police motorcycle burns during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's ''morality police'', in Tehran, Iran September 19, 2022. (credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS) A police motorcycle burns during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's ''morality police'', in Tehran, Iran September 19, 2022. (credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

Ongoing Iranian protests more severe than ever before?

Abdollahian’s remarks, quoted by various media outlets from his tweets, came after seven people were killed in an incident in the southwest of the country that Iranian state media described as a terrorist attack and amid sporadic violence against Iranian security forces in Iran.

Due to the iron curtain that censors the media and the internet, it is certainly difficult to know exactly what is happening in Iran. But media reports from Iran show that the circle of popular protests has widened to include most Iranian cities; anger has shifted to the bazaar or traditional Iranian markets, which are considered the backbone of the economy.

Traders have shown solidarity with the popular anger. This is an important change because these traders are a mainstay of the system. There are also credible reports of disagreements within the Iranian regime on how to deal with the protests.

Violence and repression are creating more anger and are not conducive to engaging the young people who form the core of the protests. Some reports even state that a large proportion of those arrested in connection with the protests are the sons, relatives and families of Iran’s political, military and violent ruling elite.

In trying to understand what is happening in Iran, the number of casualties and those arrested should not only be seen as an indicator of the level of popular anger and measure the intensity of the confrontation between the Iranian people and the regime.

THERE ARE other equally important indicators, notably the continuation of protests and strikes and the state of anger over a long period of time, which reflects the crossing of the line of fear that has been one of the main instruments of deterrence protecting the Iranian regime and ensuring its survival.

There are other indicators of the growing restlessness of the Iranian regime, including reports by Western media that the Iranian regime has deployed a special force from a country in the region to support the Iranian Basij forces.

The disproportionate nature of this extreme level of violence and the use of foreign forces suggests that protests are expanding and becoming difficult to control, and perhaps a desire to use the expertise of other security forces to quell such protests.

The fact that the Iranian regime has moved to talk of civil war and the division of the country suggests that there are dangerous signs in this direction. The mullahs have real concerns that this scenario may occur not because it is supported from outside, but mainly because of the regime’s internal policies against minorities among the Iranian people.

The regime completely ignores the multi-ethnic considerations that characterize the demographic composition of the Iranian people. Non-Persian ethnic groups make up about half of the country’s population; the geographical distribution of these groups makes it difficult to describe the country as ethnically homogeneous.

This danger is exacerbated by the fact that rather than trying to promote a policy of coexistence, the regime deepens the idea of division by targeting certain minorities and pitting ethnicities against each other. The tyranny of political sectarianism weighs so heavily on the country that the entire population is put under severe and explosive pressure through lack of minority rights, exclusionary policies, repression, persecution, forced integration plans and so on.

Undoubtedly, these facts reflect the growing unease of the Iranian regime; things have not yet reached the limits of stability and regaining control in the foreseeable future.

Importantly, the Iranian regime may try to divert attention and export the crisis abroad after fabricating one or more foreign crises to try to divide opponents, prove a foreign conspiracy scenario and use the opportunity to suppress escalating popular anger instead of focusing on what is happening inside Iran from the outside.

The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.