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Iran Protests Are Real, But Is The West Willing To Listen?

Keen to revive the 2015 nuclear pact, Washington and its allies are turning a blind eye to what's really taking place in the Islamic Republic.

Iran Protests Are Real, But Is The West Willing To Listen?

Iran security forces present at a peaceful protest

Ahmad Ra'fat

-OpEd-

Protests and strikes are continuing in Iran, as are the clerical regime's relentless efforts to crush them. The government sees such popular actions as a grave threat to its survival. It knows it can no longer claim to enjoy public support, and sees repression as the only way to survive — at least for a while longer.

The country's presidential elections, in June, were a wakeup call in that respect. People broadly refused to participate, as indicated even by the official numbers. The regime, if it's to be believed, claims that less than half of eligible voters participated, and that of the votes cast, 14% were blank or spoiled ballots. Unofficial reports paint an even starker picture, with estimates that participation didn't even reach the 20% mark. In Tehran, only one in five people are believed to have voted.

The reality is that we're a country where in response to water or power shortages, people immediately start chanting Death to the Islamic Republic. People are angry, in other words, and they have been for quite some time, as evidenced by more than a year of daily demonstrations or strike actions in different cities.

The fact is that no foreign plot or meddling is needed to goad Iranians into protesting against this regime. What they're reacting to, rather, are exasperating daily conditions.

Contract workers from more than 100 oil-sector and petrochemical firms remain on strike, joined recently by workers of the Haft Tappeh sugar factory. The most recent bout of protests began ostensibly over water shortages in Hamidieh in Khuzestan and have yet to end, with unrest spreading to other towns in the province, then other provinces.

The regime and its allies have sought, in vain, to downplay or discredit these actions at home and abroad. Contrary to the regime's charges, the Arab inhabitants of Khuzestan have not come out to demand secession from Iran, nor are the thousands of others protesting across the country for the past few weeks "rioters," as the government states. Regime apologists abroad have wrongly described protesters as armed and even trained abroad.

The fact is that no foreign plot or meddling is needed to goad Iranians into protesting against this regime. What they're reacting to, rather, are exasperating daily conditions. And if anything, it's the regime that has benefited most from outside influence. That the leadership has survived as long as it has is due in large part to direct and indirect backing from foreign countries, from both the East and West.


As Ayatollah Ali Khamenei receives his second dose, he reportedly asked the next government to urgently solve the water crisis in Khuzestan provinceIranian Supreme Leader's Office via ZUMA Press Wire


And a Amnesty International has stated, the regime is even resorting to armaments used in war to silence protests that could in time confound the Supreme leader's claims that the regime is stable. For years now, the Islamic Republic has projected itself abroad as stable, citing evidence including the people's extensive participation in controlled elections. The next time the regime sits down with Western diplomats, it'll no longer be able to make that claim.

The leadership has also boasted of its ability to overcome several rounds of protests, notably in 2018 and 2019, as another indication of strength. But when unrest recurs every two years or so, and can only be silenced with jailings, torture and executions, it is clear the instability is endemic. The regime wants to put out a smouldering fire with ashes, and insists on telling observers the fire is out.

The West's dream of renewing the 2015 nuclear pact may be one reason why Western states have been slow and tepid in reacting to the violent suppression of protests of Iran. European signatories to the pact (Great Britain, France and Germany), along with the United States under the Biden administration, are determined to recover the pact and believe that talks — and keeping quiet about the regime's crimes — can force the Islamic Republic to retreat in its nuclear program. But after six rounds of fruitless talks, these are fading hopes.

Can the West negotiate with a president implicated in prison massacres?

The declarations made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in his last meeting with the outgoing cabinet of President Hassan Rohani showed that Islamic Iran is not banking on an agreement with the West anytime soon. Washington cannot accept some of the conditions Iranian negotiators have set, one of them being that future U.S. president should be barred from leaving the pact. Another is expecting that the Revolutionary Guards will be taken off the international terrorists list, without Iran making fundamental changes to its regional policies.

As the regime becomes less stable, it also becomes more isolated abroad. That makes the current round of protests more important. Other isolating factors include the trial in Sweden of a regime hand, Hamid Nuri, for his suspected role in mass executions in Iran. In 1988, he was an assistant-prosecutor working with Raisi, then a senior prosecutor, at the Gohardasht prison outside Tehran.

Nuri's conviction down the line would have repercussions beyond his person. He was after all, carrying out orders — Raisi's orders. Can the West then sit and negotiate, or sign an agreement, with a president implicated in prison massacres? How would Western states justify that to public opinion in their own countries, never mind to the people of Iran?

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