Sparks of opposition rise in Iran

A police motorcycle burns during a protest in downtown Tehran over the death of Mahsa Amini, September 19, 2022. (AP Photo)
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About two weeks into the last wave of anti-regime protests in Iran, in a long-distance, indirectly informed sense, they were widespread but sporadic; They reflected a deep opposition to the Ayatollahs but were not coherently organized; He said that they disturbed the regime but did not threaten the regime.

These are not “political” demonstrations, unlike the 2009 protests that erupted over the election rigging that enabled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to retain the presidency, and which took to the streets in huge numbers—hundreds of thousands or more—for rallies demanding reform. leading figures of the opposition. Nor, as far as measurably, have they expanded to build on Iran’s economic malaise, the regime’s misplaced priorities, and the untenable realities of rising unemployment and skyrocketing food prices, to build on the intermittent protests and union strike actions in recent months and years.

Rather, they are led to the heart of the regime – run by women; set in motion by the death of a woman named Mahsa Amini, under the auspices of the regime’s “morality police”; focused on the regime’s oppression against women, which is symbolized by the obligatory veiling of women in public. scarf.

Again unlike in 2009, when US President Barack Obama praised “astonishing leaven” but flatly rejected any American incentives for regime change – “given the history of US-Iranian relations, it is unproductive to be seen as intervention” – this US led by some from the international community, are showing firm support for the protesters.

“Today, we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are demonstrating to secure their fundamental rights,” said US President Joe Biden from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly last week.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the regime of killing Amini “because of the decisions it had to make about what to wear and what not to wear.”

The US also said it was doing everything it could to counter the regime’s blocking of internet access by allowing tech companies to “expand the range of internet services available to Iranians,” as the US Assistant Secretary of the Treasury said.

The EU condemned Iran for fatally suppressing the protests. Germany summoned its ambassador to Iran. Iranian opposition groups held protest demonstrations in front of Iranian embassies. Solidarity marches with Iranian women were held around the world.

Iranian dissidents protest President Ebrahim Raisi’s appearance at the United Nations in New York on September 20, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Outside the UN last week, as President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the General Assembly, thousands of anti-regime activists gathered to condemn him and the regime and support the protests. “Raisi does not deserve a seat in the UN and he is not the head of the Iranian people. Raisi is a mass murderer,” he said. aforementioned an activist, Raha Heshmatikhah.

The regime’s response seems to reflect both discomfort and a sense of room to maneuver – defensive preparation to give some ground, followed by hardening of positions.

Early in the protests, Amini’s death was widely covered in Iran’s tightly controlled media. front pages from daily newspapers. Raisi urged authorities to “investigate the cause of the incident urgently and with special care”. But as the days passed, the official line got tougher and so was the reaction of the Iranian security forces. While it is unclear whether appeasement or firing is the wiser response, the regime seems to have decided on the latter.

It’s impossible to pinpoint exact numbers, but state media confirmed “around 60” deaths in almost two weeks of the protests, with non-governmental groups putting the figure above 75. These numbers are similar to death rates. Three months of the The massively supported protests of 2009Thousands of people were arrested in clashes in 2009. In other words, the regime is more prepared than it is now to resort to shooting its own people in the streets.

Iranian dissidents protest President Ebrahim Raisi’s appearance at the United Nations in New York on September 20, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Do the 2022 Mahsa Amini demonstrations and the regime’s reaction to them mark the beginning of the regime’s unending end? No one – neither abroad nor in Iran – can reliably answer this question.

This is a regime that is openly struggling to please its people from afar. There are overlapping masses of discontent – ​​encompassing those who oppose everything the leadership stands for, those who blame it for their poverty, those who are outraged by its corruption. Sparks of opposition are mounting, and the regime itself is divided over the grooming of Supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s son, Mujtaba, as a potential successor – a recipe for deeper chaos.

But as one regime critic said in an interview with Israeli television in Tehran on Wednesday, “I am almost positive that the process that has begun now will not lead to any revolution in the near future… The regime will stop or restrain the protests. vigorously.” “Still, that doesn’t mean Iranian women will give up on their just demands,” she said.

In this photo provided by the Kurdish-run Hawar News Agency, Kurdish women hold portraits of Iranian Mahsa Amini during a protest denouncing her death in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli, in Iran, September 26, 2022. (via Hawar News Agency AP)

Israel has so far been cautious about the protests. Yair Lapid referred to them in his UN speechWhere it attributes a “bloody dictatorship” that hates its own people to the regime’s bomb-making efforts, implying that there is no denying what it will try to do to us if the regime can do what it has done to its own people. “If the Iranian regime gets nuclear weapons, it will use it,” he said.

In particular, Israel is unequivocally warning once again that in negotiations for a revived nuclear deal, this regime will likely not be seen as credible and should not be strengthened and discouraged by any relief from sanctions pressure.

Clearly and reasonably, Israel does not express solidarity with the protesters or encourage them to escalate their opposition. The regime, as usual, is trying to argue that the protests were fueled by countries hostile to Iran. Official Israeli statements will only play a role in this narrative.

Also, as a very wise senior Iran expert told me on Wednesday, the Iranian regime is now doing itself more harm than Israel could have hoped.

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