By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin*
As a symptom of how detested Iran’s mullahs have become, “turban tossing” is a viral trend. Videos showing people creeping up behind clerics and knocking off or stealing their turbans and running away have been viewed millions of times.
One enraged MP warned that turban-tossers were a “conspiracy of devils” who were “playing with the lion’s tail.” Hated turbaned symbols of the regime’s hypocrisy and corruption frequently find themselves failing to get served in markets, or having taxi drivers refusing to stop for them.
Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin is among several figures charged with the capital offence of “waging war against God” for public criticism of the regime and its supreme leader. Could there be any clearer sign that this theocratic regime has lost the plot than these attempts to equate Ayatollah Khamenei with God?
Other musicians, athletes and cultural figures have been rounded up for demonstrating solidarity with protesters. Celebrity chef Mehrshad Shahidi was beaten to death by Revolutionary Guard thugs the day before his 20th birthday. Nevertheless, in a move of breathtaking boldness, actress Taraneh Alidoosti last week appeared in a photo without hijab, brandishing a placard with the protest slogan “Woman, life, freedom.”
Tehran regime authorities have announced another round of public trials for at least 1,000 protesters, including charges that carry the death penalty — a transparent attempting to terrorize citizens back into obedience. A message from 227 MPs demanded that the judiciary deal “decisively with the perpetrators of these crimes”. According to human rights groups, at least 328 people have already been killed and 14,825 arrested. Other estimates are even higher.
Despite such crude measures, nationwide mass protests are still going strong after a full two months; thousands of demonstrators gathered last week to commemorate 40 days since “bloody Friday” in Zahedan, when security forces opened fire and massacred at least 96 people. There are calls for mass demonstrations on Nov. 15 to mark the anniversary of the brutally crushed 2019 uprising.
Yet even as the regime bleeds credibility domestically, it remains hellbent on overseas provocation. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported last week that Iran now has sufficient uranium enriched to 60 percent purity with which to build a nuclear bomb, as well as having disabled surveillance equipment allowing the agency to monitor enrichment activities.
Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh also boasted that Iran had developed a hypersonic missile capable of penetrating all defense systems. Meanwhile, Iranian drones continue to be gratuitously deployed against Ukrainian civilians and power-generating infrastructure. The world continues to passively watch as this terrorist theocracy develops military and nuclear arsenals with which to menace us all.
With the COP27 climate summit taking place in Egypt, attention has been drawn to the fact that Iran is the world’s sixth-highest greenhouse gas emitter and one of the few countries not to have ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement. This matters because mismanagement and climate change have led to many of Iran’s biggest lakes, rivers and underground water sources almost completely drying up. In 2018, the Revolutionary Guards carried out a wave of arrests of Iranian environmental advocates, accusing them of espionage and collaboration with “enemy states.” Several remain in jail.
The regime has scored own goals with ham-fisted attempts to exert force overseas. Demonstrators around Iranian embassies worldwide have been attacked. Iranian journalists in London have received “credible, significant and imminent” threats to their lives, and their relatives inside Iran have suffered crude intimidation. While Iran’s charge d’affaires in London was breezily dismissing such reports as “nonsense,” his denial was somewhat undermined by Mohammad Hosseini, one of Iran’s vice presidents, who brazenly threatened: “We’ll respond wherever necessary, even in other countries — as we did in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan.”
Although the EU is set to widen sanctions, it is inexplicable that there appears to be no consensus on labeling the Revolutionary Guards — the regime’s blunt weapon for crushing internal dissent —a terrorist entity: this despite reports that the Guards were preparing to strike the energy infrastructure of Arab Gulf states in a clumsy attempt to distract attention from domestic chaos.
Divisions within the regime on how to handle the unrest are evident for all to see. Hard-line members of the Iranian parliament are calling for maximum force to crush civil disobedience; one of them, ultraconservative Mojtaba Zonnour, declared: “Women who do not cover their hair should be sentenced to 74 lashes.” Other MPs have defended the right to peaceful protest. A statement from Iran’s Reformist bloc was denounced by activists as too late and too feeble, despite drawing fire from regime hard-liners.
These relentless protests are fatally undermining the regime’s legitimacy. Huge numbers of women and students have demonstrated their refusal to continue living under harsh and arbitrary restrictions. Even among demographics that previously tolerated or defended the regime, there has been disquiet over videos of police assaulting women and shooting at protesters.
The preponderance of female demonstrators has also had a demoralizing effect on local police charged with maintaining order. These defiant (and clearly Iranian) women do not look like the “foreign agents, saboteurs and terrorists” that the regime accuses them of being. To impoverished ordinary police officers who are already depressingly familiar with regime corruption, incompetence and inflexibility, these women’s demands may appear legitimate and even admirable.
Nobody expects the regime to collapse tomorrow, but these unusually tenacious and widespread protests demonstrate that the endgame is in sight. At some point, brave Iranians will come out in sufficient numbers to bring this farce to an abrupt end. It isn’t a question of if, but when.
The world must begin preparations now for a post-theocracy era, in readiness for supporting Iranians through a smooth transition. We can’t afford a Libya-style scenario in which regime change means endless civil war and anarchy, or a Syria-style scenario in which an embattled regime murders its way back to a stalemate. Setting out such a vision and demonstrating how it will be materially supported also gives greater momentum and motivation for the evolving uprising, and offers hope to other regional states afflicted by aggressive Iranian meddling.
A post-regime future is inevitable. The world owes it to the courageous and long-suffering Iranian people to support them in acquiring a representative and accountable governing system, and attaining the freedom, prosperity and stability they deserve.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.