There are numerous reports on Twitter that protests have broken out in several towns and cities in Iran. There is a video circulating of an astonishingly brave woman chanting “Death to Khamenei” in front of law enforcement officers, and another of posters of Khomeini and Khamenei being burned. There are other reports that the police are no longer enforcing the detested 1979 law compelling women to wear a headscarf in public, and one young woman has taken the opportunity to stand on a bollard, hair uncovered, and wave a flag. What is significant about these protests is that people on the streets are actively preventing the authorities from arresting their fellow protesters, and the police have so far declined to get heavy-handed.
From what I can tell, the protests are mainly about economics, with people asking why Iran is spending so much money on terrorism and political meddling abroad while things deteriorate at home. Apparently some are shouting “No Gaza, No Lebanon, our lives are devoted to Iran”. Interestingly, I recently heard some grumblings from Russians about Putin expending money and effort in Syria rather than improving living conditions at home.
The last time there were protests of this size in Iran was 2009 following elections, and Barack Obama declined to back the protesters, effectively siding with the regime. This time around we have Donald Trump in the White House and, surprise surprise, he’s not fucking about:
Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2017
This is winning him support in unlikely quarters, with some centrist Democrats now referring to Obama’s silence in 2009 as an “error”. Others have pointed out that far from being an error, this was entirely consistent with Obama’s policy of sucking up to America’s sworn enemies in the hope of avoiding difficult foreign policy dilemmas on his watch, and in the case of Iran, signing that ludicrous nuclear deal in the hope of securing his “legacy”. It would be highly ironic if the despotic Iranian regime is overthrown by its own people while Trump is in charge: a constant refrain from his critics has been that his bellicose language towards the Mullahs is unhelpful and only serves to rally the people around their government. Turns out America throwing its moral support behind people trampled on by their governments actually gives them encouragement. Who knew?
Of course, this is giving a lot of people a headache, for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that Obama’s policy towards Iran was seriously ill-considered, but criticism of the Messiah is verbotten in media circles. Secondly, it makes Trump look good. This is why CNN has barely mentioned the protests, preferring instead to ask why Trump doesn’t own a pet. One would have also thought that certain American feminists might feel a little embarrassed about calling themselves brave while marching in Washington wearing pussy-hats in order to listen to sharia-supporting Linda Sarsour praise Islam, but I think we established long ago these morons are incapable of shame.
It also gives the usual conspiracy-mongers a problem. Normally when protests appear in a country whose population has suffered under decades of dysfunctional government, idiots from both sides of the political spectrum immediately blame the CIA or the Jews/Israel. It never occurs to them that maybe ordinary people can get fed up with a lifetime of misrule, but now they may be forced to. It’s going to be pretty hard to claim that the CIA has been active in Iran and paying Iranians to protest their government, and it’s going to be even harder to convince anyone that a nefarious cabal of Jews has done the same. That said, I expect we’ll still get the usual bollocks about a pipeline within a few weeks.
Personally, I’m glad the Iranians have taken to the streets. The Iranians are not stupid, bloodthirsty savages bent on the eradication of Israel and the US, by contrast they appear to be relatively sensible people ruled by theocratic despots who I’d like to see hanging from lampposts, upside down and on fire. I would love to see regime change in Iran, but it could only come from within, at the hands of the Iranians themselves; if it came about via external force it would be a disaster. Regardless of what happens now, and I expect the government will break up the protests and regain control before too long, the Ayatollah’s regime is now looking vulnerable. The people have shown the world they are not supportive of the bullshit their leaders spout, and I am confident they want a more modern, open society and less backward theocracy. In a brittle regime, protests like these taken on an importance which far outweighs their actual size and, unlike in the Arab springs, I am more confident what will follow the eventual collapse of theocratic rule in Iran will be an improvement.
Finally, the person who ought to be watching proceedings in Iran very closely is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He seems keen on establishing in Turkey a theocratic Islamist regime similar to that of Iran, and the two countries are keen allies in the stand-off between the various Arab countries in the Gulf. If the Iranian regime falls the one that replaces it might not like him very much. The Turkish people might also get the idea that they have options to resist encroaching religious despotism after all.
All in all, this is encouraging. Let’s see what happens.