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End-Of-Regime Vibe? Supreme Leader Keeps Referring To Shah's Final Days

In recent weeks, Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, has made repeated references to the end of Iran's last regime in 1979. It may be a sign the country is indeed approaching another kind of revolution.

photo of Supreme Leader ali Khamenei

Iran's Supreme Leader al Khamenei on Jan. 9

Office of Supreme Leader via ZUMA


Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered his forces to clamp down with renewed vigor on the remains of the mass protests that erupted across Iran in mid-September. Initially a reaction to police brutality, these turned into the biggest anti-state protests of the Islamic Republic's 40-year history.

And they continue, in spite of thousands of arrests, more than 500 deaths on the streets and in custody, and four hangings. There was also outrage in Britain and across the world after the execution of British-Iranian Alireza Akbari, who had been sentenced to death.

All of this has angered the leader. In a speech in Tehran last week, Khamenei called the protests "treason" aimed at destroying Iran's "security, production of knowledge, economic output and tourism."

Officials have echoed his refusal to see genuine public anger or discontent. On Jan. 10, the Information Ministry claimed it had unmasked 23 collaborators of Israel's Mossad agency, which it added had sought, in vain, to use the distraction of rioting to undertake its own sabotage and murder operations.

A baffled leader

The head of the armed forces joint command, Muhammad Baqeri, addressed a separate meeting on the same day as Khamenei, accusing "the world of arrogance" — or the West — of fomenting protests through arms smuggling, manipulation and propaganda. Very few Iranians had actually protested, he said, "about 0.3%" of the entire population, which he added, meant that Iranians had "refused to play the enemy's game" and rightly discerned this to be a plot cooked up abroad.

He wasn't expecting police beatings and mass arrests not to work as they used to without fail.

The head of the Revolutionary Guards corps, Hussein Salami, has likewise accused the West of wanting to "ruin" Iran and turn it into "Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen."

Khamenei's own position has hardened as the protests persisted. Early on he qualified many protesters as youngsters "excited by something they've seen on the Internet," adding that a reprimand would duly show them the error of their ways.

But he is baffled by their prolongation over almost four months. It has been a while since he ordered "this mess" cleared up, which has yet to happen quite as he wished. He wasn't expecting police beatings and mass arrests not to work as they used to without fail.

The "Godly days" of the Revolution

Khamenei makes frequent references to the monarchy that preceded this regime and Iran's last two monarchs, Reza and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It is difficult to know whether it is because he believes he has learned the lessons of history, or to fire up images of the 1979 revolution in the minds of younger agents, militiamen and policemen who hear his speeches. He has urged supporters to keep alive the zeal of the "Godly days" of the 1979 revolution.

He pours scorn on Iranians today, in spite of their willingness to face down a regime that kills far more readily.

He must have been incensed then that on Jan. 8, a day before his speech and on the anniversary of a "significant" protest by Qom clerics (on Jan. 8, 1978) against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, there should have been protests against himself. One of the slogans heard on rooftops this year was This is the Year of Blood, Seyyed Ali Will be Overthrown (Emsal saal-e khun-e, seyyed ali sarnegun-e).

He recalled the courage of the revolutionaries of 1978, pointing out in his recent speech that they had "accepted" the dangers of confronting the Shah's authoritarian regime. Yet he pours scorn on Iranians today, in spite of their willingness to face down a regime that kills far more readily.

PHoto of \u200bProtests in Tehran calling for Islamic rule in Sep. 1978

Protests in Tehran in Sep. 1978 calling for the end of Shah's rule


Campaign for clarification

Khamenei insists that what Iranians needed today was a "campaign of clarification" to understand — for the thousandth time it seems — that the Islamic Republic is good for them, regardless of shortages in Iran... of which there is no shortage.

If he is indeed comparing his predicament with that of the Shah in late 1978, he may even have contemplated unleashing an "Assad-style" massacre — which the Shah refused, preferring to leave instead. He once warned officers that the Shah was betrayed by his air force. Is he fearful of a coup or personal betrayal by military elements?

Certainly Iran's nomenklatura hasn't shown the same zeal in praising the ayatollah as protesters have in denouncing a "dictator," and voicing their scorn for this self-styled caliph and enemy of Iran.

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