Widespread and larger - Weekly Worker

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Location: weeklyworker.co.uk

24.11.2022

Splits are widening at the top, the protests are continuing to grow, but there are still illusions in US-sponsored regime change. Yassamine Mather comments

You would not know it from the western media, but protests in Iranian cities and towns have been more widespread and larger than in recent weeks. November 19‑20 marked 40 days since the death of a number of demonstrators in Kurdistan: therefore the occasion for mass funeral demonstrations.

The subsequent attacks by security and military forces have led to still more deaths. Currently reports from Iran suggest that at least 430 people have been killed in protests that have lasted more than 10 weeks. In addition there have been short protest strikes and other actions by workers, including by those employed in the Shanahan steel plant, as well as Iran Tyre workers in Tehran.

The Financial Times reports that Iranian workers, although sympathetic to the protestors, have so far shown “little readiness for general strikes” and the article quotes a businessman in the oil sector:

… when his staff last week went to Asaluyeh - an Iranian port that serves South Pars, the world’s largest gas field - there were no signs of any shutdown. He added that there have occasionally been protests by non-staff workers hired by subcontractors, but only in sectors that have little impact on production ...1

This might be true for now, but, as the economic situation deteriorates, as a direct consequence of the impasse on the nuclear deal, the value of the Iranian currency, the rial, dropped even further against the dollar last week. All this had led to yet another round of massive price rises.

A number of audio files leaked from senior military commanders show divisions at the top. In one recording, a senior military officer, addressing fellow commanders, calls them ‘deniers’. He told them that it is impossible to turn a blind eye to daily protests in most districts: “Don’t you see the slogans written on walls, hanging from bridges … the slogans security forces rush to clean up before the working day starts? Don’t you hear the protestors every evening, using darkness to express their opinion?”

The ‘reformist’ factions of the Islamic Republic regime are also openly questioning the wisdom of ignoring the extent of the protests. In a statement issued on November 9, one of Iran’s major ‘reformist’ organisations stated:

The protests are the outcome of years of government denial of the problems faced by the Iranian people ... statements by officials, including the joint statement by security and intelligence agencies, are in fact part of the problem, rather than a solution for the country’s political deadlock.

The statement ended with a proposal to help the embattled government: “We on our part would like to suggest practical ways out of the crisis and we are happy to discuss our proposals with the government, should it be inclined to listen to them and implement them.”

The newspaper Javan, which is associated with the Revolutionary Guards, summed up official responses to the statement by calling it repetitive and an attempt to blame the government. Javan also criticised ‘reformists’ for their silence during the past 50 days and for not distancing themselves from what it called “the rioters”.2

In what appears to be a desperate attempt to save the Islamic Republic some ‘reformists’ have proposed a referendum to limit the powers of Iran’s supreme leader. Although this call seems to have little support either amongst the protesters or the ruling circles.

As I have written before, the ‘reformists’ are probably a spent force and their attempts at ‘mediating’ have had little impact, as far as the protests are concerned. Last week a former official who served in the administration under president Mohammad Khatami, gave a more realistic view of the situation to Reuters: “People feel reformists helped hard-liners by promising reforms that were impossible with hard-liners in power. We should accept that the younger generation in Iran does not want us. The reform movement is dead.”3

On November 22 Rostam Ghasemi, minister for roads and urban development, resigned and the current president, Ebrahim Raisi, quickly accepted it. The government’s official line is that Ghasemi resigned due to ill health, but his departure comes less than a week after the publication of a number of photos of him alongside his wife (or at least one of his wives!), who was not wearing any head cover in what looks like a park, while they were in Malaysia.

Given the number of people who have died in the protests that followed the death on September 16 of Mahsa Amini, following her arrest for failing to wear a full hijab, the publication of those photos created a scandal. Members of the Islamic parliament were demanding that Raisi sack Ghasemi. The MP, Iqbal Shakri, asked the president to “look into the matter and make a decision” on “whether Ghasemi is capable of continuing his work” - adding that, if the government does not take action, there is the possibility of impeachment. You can see why he resigned.

Blame

Of course, when it comes to hypocrisy, the Iranian government is not alone. British foreign minister James Cleverly, on starting his visit to the Middle East, blamed Iran for “spreading bloodshed and destruction around the world” and vowed to work with allies to counter Tehran’s actions. Apparently Iran should be blamed for all the conflicts that have occurred in the Middle East over the last few decades.

While no-one can defend the role of the Islamic Republic in escalating some of the conflicts in the region, the elephant in the room is the US-led ‘war on terror’, which led to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and then Iraq, which paved the way for Iran’s ascendency as a regional power. Even an amateur observer of the Middle East would know that it was the war started by George Bush and Tony Blair that led, not only to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but also to instability throughout the region.

Maybe Cleverly should be reminded that those who supported and financed (albeit indirectly) al Qa’eda and Islamic State were and remain the close allies of the west: Saudi Arabia and the Persian gulf countries. I know that, when it comes to the current list of Tory ministers, it is fashionable to display historical amnesia, but even the not so bright Mr Cleverly must have heard of IS.

There are also reports that the Islamic Republic is trying to find a major military conflict to divert attention from the current internal protests. Although Saudi Arabia and Iraq are the two countries claiming they are under threat, it is more likely that if Iran is really seeking such a conflict, it will be on its northern borders - in particular some kind of intervention in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. This has coincided with the weakening of Russia’s financial, economic and military resources in dealing with the south Caucasus as a consequence of the war in Ukraine and, as a result, Armenia - a traditional ally of Russia - has had to look for new friends in the west.

There is some speculation that Iran (maybe with Russian assistance and collusion) is trying to prevent any involvement in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict by non-regional forces. We can see signs of this over the last two months, with the Islamic Republic warning against potential western ‘interference’ by holding a large-scale military exercise on its northern borders and intensifying its threats against Azerbaijan.

Apparently a tripartite meeting held between Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan and Russia could not reach a compromise. During these talks the Russian president tried to persuade his counterpart in Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, to sign an agreement giving special status to the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh territory and to allow Russian ‘peacekeeping’ forces to remain. Following the failure of the talks, on November 6, Aliyev voiced concerns about Iran’s intervention, urging Armenia not to rely on Tehran. It was claimed by Azerbaijan that Tehran had crossed the ‘red line’ it had set by supporting Armenia and preventing a peace agreement.

America

There is no doubt that there are those among the Iranian protestors who are constantly pointing to the number of people killed or severely injured by the regime’s forces at various demonstrations, and who hope western governments will intervene to defend ‘human rights’ in Iran. What they fail to realise is that the US and its allies could not care less about genuine rights in developing countries. If at this time they are paying attention to news from Iran, it is because Iran’s support for Russia and its possible alignment with China make it a convenient enemy.

As for paving the way for ‘democracy’, as we approach the 44th anniversary of the creation of the Islamic Republic, it is worthwhile reminding everyone of the US’s previous position on regime change in Iran. A report from The Washington Post in January 1979 sums it up:

Top foreign policy makers in the Carter administration reluctantly have concluded that Iran’s exiled Moslem leader, ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, now holds the key to the building of an anti-communist government around prime minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, US officials report.

That assessment represents another large stride away from an administration policy on Iran that only a month ago could still be described as ‘the shah or chaos’.4 


  1. www.ft.com/content/4ef4af5c-f379-11e7-88f7-5465a6ce1a00.↩︎

  2. www.javanonline.ir/fa/news/1114656.↩︎

  3. www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/irans-unrest-sounds-death-knell-once-vibrant-reformists-2022-11-10.↩︎

  4. www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1979/01/21/us-sees-khomeini-as-key-to-iran-government/689521c5-c97f-4aec-a1d9-2f7e07f268f7.↩︎