Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iranian Demonstrations Signal Regime's Impending Downfall

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iranian Demonstrations Signal Regime's Impending Downfall

Article excerpt

Iranian Demonstrations Signal Regime's Impending Downfall

Now that the steam has gone out of its "post-election moderation" scenario, the true future of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's government is emerging in the streets and shantytowns of Iran's major cities. In seven large-scale uprisings since the April Majlis elections, the Iranian people have cast their ballots. They rejected the Khomeini regime in its entirety.

The nationwide anti-government protests have confronted the ruling mullahs with their most serious crisis in recent years. Since the last days of May, when residents of Mashhad staged a massive demonstration, attacking all government institutions in their path, Khomeini's heirs have suffered a recurring nightmare of clashes, confrontations and mass protests.

Iran's official newspapers again feature headlines on executions of dissidents and activists of the resistance and Mojahedin. The regime's spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, describes the protesters as "weeds" which must be "eliminated," while Rafsanjani demands harsher suppression and encourages the Islamic Revolutionary Courts to "keep up the good work" of issuing death sentences for the arrested.

In Iran's cities, Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) units known as "Komiteh" have been unyoked from the police, with which they had merged, and independently reorganized. The regime has also announced the formation of anti-riot brigades made up of Pasdaran.

The Mashhad upheaval in May was the sixth major anti-government demonstration nationwide since mid-April. Unrest and clashes continued through June in the densely populated and impoverished sections of south Tehran. Various other cities and regions, including Kurdistan and Baluchistan, also saw frequent clashes between repressive agents of the mullahs and discontented residents and resistance supporters.

The frequency and persistence of these incidents, despite the government crackdown, have set off alarm bells in Tehran. The protests point clearly to nationwide organization and direction, referred to by Rafsanjani as "organizational contacts" between "our enemies within and our organized enemies without."

Rafsanjani was alluding to the strategy made public last year by the Iranian resistance and its leader, Massoud Rajavi, for the overthrow of the mullahs' regime. This calls for combining anti-government demonstrations and protests within Iran with the concentrated military force of the National Liberation Army of Iran. To this end, more than 600 demonstrations, strikes and protest acts were staged last year under the guidance of the resistance and Mojahedin forces.

The recent demonstrations do, of course, reflect bread and butter issues. The economic situation is catastrophic. Inflation, unemployment and housing shortages are rising, as is financial corruption by the ruling mullahs. Regime officials concede that 75 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. Rafsanjani's "five-year plan" has produced only more economic hardships.

Nevertheless, these factors are only part of the problem. The slogans chanted by the demonstrators, "death to Rafsanjani" and "death to Khamenei," go beyond economic demands and underscore the political rejection of the entire regime. Moreover, sporadic incidents consistently evolve into extensive, centralized anti-government demonstrations.

International news agencies reported that after the Mashhad protest the clerical regime conceded that the Mojahedin had instigated and led the recent series of demonstrations. Reuters wrote that Mashhad's mayor blamed the citywide clashes on the Mojahedin who, he said, took part in the demonstrations "in an organized way."

Although the intensity of the anti-government demonstrations and the Rafsanjani administration's response to them are inconsistent with the "moderation" scenario, they were anticipated by the Iranian Resistance and others who understand the way a theocracy based on velayat-e-faqih (rule of the jurist) functions. …

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