By Majid Mohammadi
There has been no shortage of conspiracy theories issued by the Islamic Republic officials in recent weeks, accusing foreign powers and Iranian opposition groups outside the country of engineering the nationwide civil unrest in mid-October over the gasoline price hike which left more than 200 people dead and scores of others injured.
The purpose of this article is not to debunk those false narratives, which identify the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), and the family of the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as the architects of the recent protests.
Slogans of “Reza Shah Bless Your Soul” and “Clerics Get Lost” chanted by protesters in Iran do not connect the unrest to the Pahlavi family and Israel, respectively.
This article instead exposes the true nature of four groups that have ostensibly tried to pursue the truth but, in fact, have falsely claimed ownership over the widespread unrest in Iran, including the October protest over fuel price hikes.
Left-Wing Marxists and Conservative Islamists: A Revolt Against Neoliberalism
Left-wing Marxists and Islamist extremists argue that the Islamic Republic is really a neoliberal regime, and hence the popular uprising in Iran is, in fact, a revolt against neoliberalism.
There are three problems with this assertion.
This argument completely ignores people’s unequivocal rejection of theocratic rule. It also fails to mention Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the regime’s propaganda machine and security apparatus — as if these entities did not exist in Iran.
It also equates the regime with the government of President Hassan Rouhani and a handful of its policies, including promoting privatization, reducing public services, increasing the retirement age, weakening the country’s workforce, cutting taxes for big businesses and helping wealthy landowners.
Privatization is more of an abstract notion than a practical policy in Iran. Concepts such as privatization that have practical applications in the West do not exist in Iran. In the Islamic Republic, the leadership, the IRGC, and the government-owned companies control the public funds. The Majlis (Iranian Parliament), local councils, and Judiciary do not have any real power.
Left-wing Marxists incorrectly describe Iran as a U.S.-like free-market capitalist country. They also place Iran in the same economic group as North and Latin America. Curiously enough, the Marxists, Iranian socialists, and the Front of Islamic Revolution Stability, a conservative political group described as Iran’s most right-wing party, identify liberalism as the leading cause of poverty in Iran and the reason for the nationwide unrest.
Independent Reformists: Economic Protests
Some people have compared the October protests in Iran with the recent unrest in Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia — prompted, respectively, by claims of electoral fraud, the raise in the Santiago metro’s subway fare, and economic reforms. Although the massive gasoline price hike sparked the unrest in Iran, most of those who took part in the nationwide protests were shouting anti-government and anti-regime slogans.
Independent reformists who have no affiliation to the government and the regime have cited the low national average income as the main reason for the protests. This is misguided logic. The disadvantaged segment of the population can have other motives than poverty to protest.
Even reformists with no political affiliations have their heads buried in the sand. They do not want to accept the fact that the protesters were demanding a regime change. Independent reformists even called for a swift crackdown on the protesters in December 2017 and also remained silent during the recent unrest.
State-Affiliated Reformists: Situation is Normal
Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, recently said: “We have seen several street protests in a few countries around the world recently. So, Iran is not unique in that way. Iran experiences such events sometimes as other nations do.”
Iranian officials have offered two explanations for the current state of the country.
Mr. Khamenei has described the situation in Iran as unusual to justify his brutal crackdown on protesters. Officials in President Rouhani’s government, however, insist that Iran is not different from other countries that sometimes experience street protests.
They all, however, ignore several significant facts, namely that no country triples the price of gasoline overnight, shuts down the internet, shoots protesters with live ammunition, and arrests thousands of people. While there are isolated incidents of violent protests in some countries, they are not everyday occurrences, even in dictatorships.
Theocracy has no place in the 21st century.
Conservative Aristocrats: War on Corruption
Conservative aristocrats, the elites who ostensibly promote justice and transparency, divide the protesters into two groups: citizens with legitimate concerns who must voice their grievances and hooligans who should be barred from taking part in any protest. The only difference between them and the regime’s security forces is that they at least believe that only half of the protesters are hooligans.
This group of conservatives ignores systematic waste and endemic incompetence within the regime and instead focuses only on corruption. However, they only target the executive branch and not the leadership and the IRGC when seeking justice for Iranian people, because they are part of the privileged class. They do not realize that a phony campaign against corruption does not fool the public.
Their main aim is to blame the executive branch for the October unrest. It is curious that many of those who have benefited so much from the Islamic Revolution, including Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing-editor of Tehran-based hardline Kayhan newspaper, and Ahmad Tavakoli, the managing-director of Alef news website, should support the head of the Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi in his so-called war on corruption.
That is why some supporters of this group take part in pro-regime rallies and carry banners that lambast Rouhani’s government, so they can use the campaign against corruption to eliminate their political opponent.
Three Clear Aspects of the Protests
All four groups ignore the three most important aspects of the protests:
- Nostalgia for the Pahlavi dynasty, which is the only governing system in modern Iranian history to have ushered in an era of progress and development in the country. Iran owes its experience of modernism to the Pahlavi era.
- Rejecting theocratic rule and the marriage between religion and politics.
- Strong attraction to Western culture and the will to halt all hostilities towards the West (our enemy is right here.)
We cannot expect anything else from the left-wing Marxists and Islamists who use religion to further their goals, and whose entire identity revolves around their hatred for the U.S. and rejection of the Pahlavi dynasty.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]