Sparking in the northeastern city of Mashhad and quickly spreading like wildfire to other cities, the demonstrations were initially focused on poverty, high prices, unpaid wages, and unemployment. But they quickly turned into protests against the regime in its entirety, manifesting the Iranian people’s longing for fundamental changes in their country.
This was evident in the slogans of protestors, who braved the dangers and chanted “death to dictator,” “death to [Hassan] Rouhani” and “death to [Ali] Khamenei,” targeting the regime’s president and the supreme leader.
Protestors also chanted “leave Syria, think about us” and “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, I will give my life for Iran,” a clear reference to the Iranian regime’s terrorist forays in neighboring countries, which has been paid straight out of their pockets and has depleted the country’s wealth and resources.
Rouhani had promised that under his rule, the livelihoods of the Iranian people would improve. But in effect, Iran’s spending on terrorism, ballistic missile developments, and its nuclear program have increased while the people’s lives have further spiraled down into poverty and the human rights situation in the country has only worsened.
"Even after the billions in sanctions relief they secured through the nuclear deal, the ayatollahs still can’t provide for the basic needs of their own people — perhaps because they’ve funneled so much of that money into their campaign of regional aggression in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement following the initial protests.
The extremist ideology of the mullahs ruling Iran has become a national, regional, and global problem, triggering sectarian conflicts and laying waste to the countries of the Middle East. But no one has felt the bite of the violent mindset of Iran’s regime more than its own people, who have for decades seen their basic rights crushed and their wealth stolen by clerics who claim to be representing God on Earth. This is why, despite the Iranian regime’s brutal history in crushing protests and dissent and the heavy security presence in cities, the people took to the streets in masses to have their voices heard.
For decades, Western states have sought to deal with the Iranian regime’s belligerent and destabilizing behavior by showering it with concessions. In 2009, when the Iranian people demonstrated against the rigging of the presidential elections, then-President Barack Obama decided to ignore the people’s protests in order to curry favor with the Iranian regime and pave the way for negotiations over its contested nuclear program.
Obama alienated the main force that could have reined in the Iranian regime and the years that followed proved how wrong that decision was. Iran might now be at another critical juncture.
Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi called the protests the “death knell for the corrupt dictatorship of mullahs, and the rise of democracy, justice and popular sovereignty.”
In past years, Rajavi’s movement, the National Council of Resistance, and its main constituent, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, have had an active role in encouraging protests inside Iran and exposing the regime’s crimes across the globe, a fact that Iranian officials have acknowledged on several occasions.
Stressing that any investment in the Iranian regime is doomed to fail, Rajavi called on the international community to “recognize the Iranian people’s resistance to overthrow that regime.”
The U.S. State Department condemned the arrest of peaceful protestors and called on all nations to support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption. President Trump called on the Iranian regime to respect the rights of the Iranian citizens who are “fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad,” and reminded Tehran that “The world is watching!”
The world now has another chance to make the right choice and to correct past mistakes. The people of Iran are watching.
Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an Iranian human rights activist.