The Lesson Of Iran’s Uprising – OpEd



Seven months after the start of the nationwide uprising in Iran, there can be no doubt about the Iranian people’s deep-seated discontent toward the current theocratic regime that has ruled the country for four decades. The protests have brought to the surface the profound frustration and rage that has been brewing under the surface for many years. The Iranian regime has responded with violence, suppression, and economic policies that have led to widespread poverty. Despite these challenges, the Iranian people are demanding change and are determined as never before to continuing the fight for the establishment of a free and democratic republic in Iran.

For years, Western governments, prompted by economic and other interests, refused to acknowledge that the people of Iran want regime change. Now, however, the prospects for change cannot be disputed. 

Undisputed facts

The regime is engulfed in irremediable crises without having any solution to get out of the current quagmire. The balance of power will not return to what it was prior to the start of the protests in September 2022.

Following each wave of protests since 2017 the regime has become weaker as its support base has shrunk further and economic and social crises have grown more acute. 

The objective condition demanding change is undisputable, to the extent that it is acknowledged by various officials within the system. 

Each wave of protests and uprising since 2017 has become more extensive and more radicalized both in its demands and people’s readiness to confront the regime’s suppressive forces. 

The regime will persist in its policy of repression to the better end, refusing to alter its behavior. Consequently, anticipating its collapse from internal factors is merely a fanciful notion. The sole viable course of action is to topple the regime. regime. 

False narratives 

As the protests continued in the fall of 2022, several issues became the focal point of discussion, mainly outside Iran, which ironically were either initiated or promoted by the regime. The following are just a few examples.

Regime Change Will Lead to Iran’s disintegration  

This narrative is both misleading and divisive, originating from the Iranian regime itself. It serves as a strategy to counter the increasing demands for complete regime change from the people. The so-called “reformists” actively promote this narrative, insisting that the primary goal should be preserving the current regime in power. Consequently, the notion of the country’s collapse is employed as a scare tactic to dissuade people from pursuing regime change. 

Interestingly, by accusing Iran’s different nationalities and ethnicities such as the Kurds, Baluchis, Arab or others as “separatists,” the remnants of the Shah’s dictatorship in effect wittingly or unwittingly act in the service of the regime. 

Indeed, there is no separatist movement among any of Iran ethnicities. Nonetheless, the Iranian employs certain agents to make such unfounded claims in or to obfuscate the situation and further its objectives. 

Contrarily, the NCRI maintains that preserving Iran’s territorial integrity necessitates recognizing the full rights of all Iranian nationalities and ethnicities and encourages their involvement  in the nationwide resistance for a secular and democratic republic.  

 Looking to IRGC as force for change

The notion of relying on the IRGC for regime change is peculiar, yet there are those who advocate for it. A tweet by an associate of Reza Pahlavi perfectly encapsulates this perspective: “Very interesting. Prince Yasmin says that an Italian journalist who’d been in #Iran recently told her that many members of the Revolutionary Guards want her husband Crown Prince @PahlaviReza to return to #Iran & help save the country.”

Reza Pahlavi had already acknowledged to have been in contact with the IRGC and the Basij, expressing the belief that the IRGC had a role to play for change and maintaining order in post-clerical Iran. 

One of the most elaborate schemes devised by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in recent years was the creation of a new opposition group called the “Iranian Green Democrats Congress (IRGDC),” in 2010.  In a series of interviews with dubious media outlets, an individual named Reza Madhi, presented himself as a dissident former IRGC General. He lured unsuspecting Iranian exiles into joining him to form an opposition coalition. 

In 2011, the French daily Le Figaro published an article in which it quoted an exiled merchant as saying, “General Mohammad Reza Madhi, a former IRGC officer, who was in charge of the regime’s security for 12 years, until 2008, has recently joined Amir Jahanshahi, an official with ties to the Green Movement.” Le Figaro adds, “This former general says he left Iran in February 2008 and had been in touch with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei up until the coup carried out during the sham elections in Iran in June 2009.” 

Two months later, on April 6, 2011, Agence France Presse (AFP) carried a story with the headline, “Iran: Formation of a New Movement Brings Dissidents Together”. The report said, “The Iranian Green Democrats Congress (IRGDC) includes most of Iranian opposition groups except for the PMOI/MEK, the main opposition organization in exile whose headquarter is located north of Paris.”

While the new “movement” was comprised of individuals with various tendencies, mostly constitutionalists and so-called greens, its most prominent figure was IRGC General Mohammad Reza Madhi. His association was billed as an indication of its supposed base of support within the IRGC. 

Ultimately, Madhi, Jahanshahi and Mehrdad Khansari (a former official in the Shah’s regime) formed what they dubbed as the “Green Wave,” which was supposed to act as a “government-in-exile.” Forty individuals attended the first meeting of this newly formed coalition on March 26, 2011, where a nine-member leadership council was elected.   

In a dramatic development on June 9, 2011, however, Madhi suddenly appeared on Iran’s state-run TV, bragging about how he had deceived “counterrevolutionaries.” Both the state-run TV and Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, announced with great fanfare that Madhi had been an agent of the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) all along and had successfully infiltrated and deceived those who claimed to be the opposition. 

The MEK, after conducting an investigation through its network inside Iran, declined to cooperate with them, which led to criticism and even severe attacks accusing the MEK of being unwilling to cooperate with other opposition groups.  

The regime is propagating this false notion in an attempt to derail the course of the uprising. Reza Pahlavi appears to be inadvertently serving the regime’s interests.

A Destructive and Divisive Illusion  

In January 2023, Reza Pahlavi and five other celebrities –a journalist, an actress, and a former soccer player among them – shared an identical Happy New Year message on Twitter. On February 10, 2023, at a conference at Georgetown University, this group was joined by two others to declare the establishment of an alliance, pledging to promptly release their charter for solidarity aimed at uniting all opposition. 

On March 10, 2023, the group unveiled its charter and invited others to forge an alliance. In addition, they participated in several political forums, asserting a singular demand: that governments and political institutions acknowledge them as legitimate interlocutors rather than the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). 

Despite its efforts, the group encountered overwhelming apathy the Iranian people. Even an extensive publicity campaign, backed by a Saudi-funded Farsi television broadcaster, failed to bolster support for the group.  

The main concern among Iranians about the alliance was the presence of Reza Pahlavi, because it evoked the dark days of his father dictatorship, not only because he has consistently refused to distance himself from his father one- party system but has actively endorsed and glorified it. He has even referred to the 1979 revolution that toppled his father as sedition, which the Iranian people view as insulting.   

Their charter was also heavily criticized from all sides. One of the most common criticisms was its failure to reject dictatorship of the monarchical system in Iran, under the pretext that such a decision, if at all, must be made in the future. This stance was particularly concerning for many Iranians, as during the nationwide protests, were chanting “down with oppressor, be it the shah or Khamenei.” This deliberate omission was seen as leaving the door open to another dictatorship. 

On April 10, 2023. Reza Pahlavi announced in a tweet that his ideas for expanding the alliance had been rejected by others. Consequently, he stated that he would work with other groups as well. His statement was widely seen as the coup de grace to the much-hyped nascent “coalition.”

Subsequently, another member of the “alliance,” Nazanin Boniadi, an actress-turned-political activist following the start of the protests in Iran and without any political background, deleted her twitter account. 

In addition to Boniadi, two other celebrities, who were part of the alliance – an actress and a soccer player – have been noticeably absent since the beginning of March, showing zero activity on the political scene. 

Ultimately, on April 21, 2023, following Reza Pahlavi’s trip to Israel, Hamed Esmaeilion, another member of the “alliance” announced his departure from the group. When asked about his decision to leave, Esmaeilion revealed that Reza Pahlavi attempted to force his own views and those of his associates upon the group, which other members opposed. He added that there was no genuine effort to establish an organizational structure with a mission statement and by-laws for all members to adhere to. Esmailion stated that monarchists dismissed other Iranians as unpatriotic, claiming that only monarchists were truly patriotic. He also expressed concern about systematic and harmful cyber-attacks by Reza Pahlavi’s associates against others to advance their own agenda.  

This autocratic mindset attitude was further emphasized during Reza Pahlavi’s trip to Israel, where a small group of his Iranian supporters presented him with a crown-shaped crown and greeted him with chants of “Javid Shah” – meaning “Eternal be the King.” 

Reza Pahlavi had embarked on a roadshow to Israel in a desperate attempt to gain a degree of recognition, which his European tour had failed to accomplish. However, the roadshow to Israel did not help him; instead, it backfired as it reinforced the view that his primary objective and ambition is to become “King of the Kings,” a title his father used before being ignominiously overthrown by the Iranian people.

On April 29, a rally was organized in London to demand the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group. The rally devolved into chaos as a few of Reza Pahlavi’s associates attempted to co-opt the rally as a show of support for him, which was rebuffed by the participants. Subsequently, Pahlavi’s associates began to verbally assault their former ally, Esmaeilion, who was one of the speakers in the rally, accusing him of being an IRGC agent. 


The formation of a coalition among political groups in any country, particularly among opposition groups to a dictatorship requires certain characteristics, without which, such efforts would be divisive and counterproductive. First and foremost, such a coalition must either have political, military, or organizational gravitas; otherwise, it would only be on paper. Moreover, it must: 

  • be based on common principles.
  • be rooted in the society, reflecting the desire of the people.
  • include political groups and individuals with a clear record of commitment to democratic values. 
  • include individuals willing to make the necessary sacrifices and 
  • above all, consist of groups and organizations engaged in resistance against the dictatorship. This is because in the absence of opportunities for free elections, legitimacy stems from resistance, which entails commitment to freedom and democracy.  

Hamid Enayat

Hamid Enayat is an Iranian human rights activist and analyst based in Europe.

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