From A World to Win News Service

Protests Shake Iran!

January 8, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


A World to Win News Service, January 5, 2018. The Iranian regime has been shaken by a week of intense and often violent protests in as many as 80 cities and towns all across the country.

Unlike the last political upheaval in 2009, when many urban, middle class demonstrators sided with so-called reformist factions within the regime, this time the people taking to the streets, overwhelmingly young men, were mainly from poor and lower-middle class neighbourhoods, often on the outskirts of urban areas where many have arrived from the countryside over the last decade. The regime has considered such people a key part of its social base, or at least counted on them to keep silent. Yet what has most marked this movement is the way it has targeted the whole regime and the Islamic Republic itself, including all of its factions.

The wave of protests broke out on December 28 in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, with a population of two million, in the country’s north-east bordering Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The home-town of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it is considered a stronghold of his “hardline” faction.

As part of infighting within the ruling forces in Iran, “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani had attempted to undermine his rivals by releasing details of the country’s proposed new budget. It calls for cutting back on family subsidies, increasing fuel prices (and therefore the price of many other basic necessities) and privatizing public schools. The budget disclosure also exposed the enormous increase in money going to the military (not just for arms but to enrich the enterprises of its already very wealthy leaders), religious representatives of the regime and the Islamic foundations that are the source of their vast incomes. The “hardline” faction’s local strongman, the city’s Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda who ran against Rouhani in the last elections, struck back at Rouhani by encouraging demonstrations against rising prices. The aim of the prayer leader, known for banning public music concerts, was to use the economic demands of the poor as a battering ram to beat back the lifestyle reforms advocated by Rouhani and his faction.

This was playing with fire, and the flames soon began to target the entire structure of the Islamic Republic that all the regime factions represent and seek to preserve.

The next day the protests spread to the opposite side of the country, the city of Kermanshah in the predominantly Kurdish west. Official inaction in the wake of a disastrous earthquake there last November had already devastated belief in the regime’s legitimacy. That city is a main hub for security forces and their equipment, yet their ambulances, helicopters and earth-moving machinery remained idle as military and civilian authorities failed to lift a finger to rescue trapped survivors or help the tens of thousands of injured. This provoked the chant, “The state is dead!”—indicting the regime for its scant regard for the lives of the minority Kurdish peoples (in much the same way as the Trump regime treated Puerto Rico following the recent hurricane there). People in the streets chanted, “Freedom for all political prisoners” and “Freedom or death!”

By the day after that, the dots marking protest sites formed a thick band across the country. Word was spread by Telegram, an encrypted social media used by tens of millions of Iranians. The hardliners warned that protesters were crossing a red line by opposing the Islamic regime instead of remaining focused on economic hardships. Rouhani called for the authorities to listen to such demands while he also joined in the condemnation of the opposition to the regime. As the rulers debated whether the Islamic Republic would best be defended by an iron fist or a smooth tongue, and while the regime’s Revolutionary Guards hesitated to intervene directly for fear they could no longer portray themselves as the people’s saviour against the politicians if they massacred the population.

The forms of protest ranged from cross-town marches to rallies in public spaces and street corner lightning actions where people assembled and then dispersed before the security forces’ arrival. In the so-called holy city of Qoms, known for its clerical schools, people attacked the Basij (Islamist militia), government buildings and police stations. Water cannons and tear gas were used against small crowds in central Tehran, and dozens of students at Tehran University called on passers-by to join them.

Everywhere people chanted, “You have turned Islam into a spring board to crush the people”, a snappy slogan in Farsi, and “Down with theocracy—the Islamic Republic must be destroyed.” In Zanjan, a crowd tore down and burned a Khamenei portrait billboard. In opposition to the ayatollahs’ slogan when they took power in 1979, “Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic,” the words “Independence, freedom, Iranian republic” rang out, along with “Death to the dictator, Death to Rouhani!” Slogans in favour of the restoration of the overthrown monarchy were also heard. There are no reports of slogans in favour of the reformist Green candidates, who led people into the streets in 2009 when the presidential election was stolen from them. Also missing from this latest wave of protests was the slogan, “Allahu Akhbar,” a further indication of important changes in the outlook of the protesters. One poster simply read: “To all factions of the regime: Game over.”

By the end of a week, the Revolutionary Guards had been deployed to the provinces of Hamadam, Isfahan and Lorestan. The government announced that 22 demonstrators had been killed, along with two members of the security forces, and hundreds were arrested. The authorities organised pro-regime demonstrations in Tehran and other cities, including Mashhad, with thousands attending. “The sedition is over,” the commander of the Revolutionary Guards announced.

The regime factions, which had united around Iran’s nuclear compromise with the West in hoping for an economic boom that would lift their regime, are once again at each other’s throats. The various factions are blaming each other and trying to use the events to gain advantage against their rivals. This split among the rulers has provided a crack through which some of the people’s anger against the regime has burst through, particularly among the lower classes that have played little role in the country’s public politics in recent years, even as the urban middle classes, the main support for the reformist opposition, seem to have decided not to join that radical upheaval for the moment.

These six days of rebellion, among people who had been counted on not to rebel, have given heart to people everywhere, and thrown fear into reactionary rulers beyond Iran’s borders. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed alarm about the implications for regional stability. Even the Saudi government, while rejoicing in the Iranian regime’s troubles, has refrained from saying anything that could encourage others to rise up against religious rule. The fault lines that have broken out into the open have not been resolved. This has brought the first good news the world’s people have had for far too long.


On March 17, 2017, A World to Win News Service (AWTWNS) announced its transformation into a more thorough-going tool for revolution based on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism. Read its “Editorial: Introducing a transformed AWTWNS” here.


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