The protests in Iran seem to have been repressed. Once again, the security apparatus of the highly armed Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) has gained the military upper hand. But the conflict is not really over, let alone resolved, but only postponed. Because the break with the system is irreparable. And the next wave of insurrection will come.
A plea for all who protest in solidarity not to give up hope.
by Kian Zeytani
Iran has been a bubbling cauldron for decades. A dense and interwoven network of crises surrounding a wide variety of topics – economy, climate, sexuality, repression, work, identity – is plunging more and more of Iran’s 80 million inhabitants into misery and great existential uncertainty about the future. Iran, as much as commentators or interested parties like to exoticize it as a mysterious “theocracy”, is thus not an isolated case. On the contrary, it joins the increasing, global and increasingly obvious crisis of neoliberal capitalism in the 21st century and its impossibility of offering sustainable models.
Two weeks ago, this simmering cauldron once again overflowed. The announcement on the night of November 16th to double or triple the price of petrol triggered the most violent unrest in almost two years: reportedly over 300 deaths, thousands injured and around 10,000 arrests. The state is launching its ideological and repressive mobilization machine and – once again – is following a simple line in its dealings with the protesters: not one millimetre is given. For the first time in years, death sentences for “leaders of the insurrection orchestrated from outside” are demanded and presumably implemented. In order to attest credibility to their own conspiracy story of the troublemaker from the outside, arrested people and God knows how long tortured ones are dragged before the camera in order to make a corresponding “confession”. For for the Iranian state it is clear: after us the Flood.
Middle Finger for the Hard Hand of God
This is one side of the coin: the almost invincible, clerical-authoritarian, highly armed security state of the IRI is constantly knocking down any protest. This side of the coin puts all those who wish this protest success into frustration, defeatism, anger and powerlessness at the same time. And it actually makes you ask the question: How can anything in this country ever change for the better?
Every person with sense should have understood, by means of examples of recent history in the Middle East, that democracy and freedom cannot be bombed into existence from outside. And all those who believe that economic sanctions and threatening gestures on Twitter actually force the mullahs to give in and change their way of ruling live in a fairy tale world: the mullahs have proven for years that 100 times in 100 cases they will starve their own people to death and pauperise them rather than lose even a fraction of their own privileges.
In the face of enemies from outside, praise is given to national unity and the need to tighten the belt, as was the case during the First Gulf War or now with regard to sanctions. A simple and successful peasant trick to divert attention from corruption, the growing gap between rich and poor and state access to the everyday life of the citizens: it is always the others who are responsible for the misery in the country.
But this ticket is no longer valid. We are currently witnessing how in the last two, maybe three years a revolutionary, intersectional movement has been formed, perpetuated and where it can rebel. It includes those who were not part of the “green movement” in 2009 – when hopes were raised for the last time within the system in view of the elections – and who were even defamed by it as the “lumpenproletariat”: Outcasts, superfluous, precarious, religious and ethnic minorities in provinces, but increasingly also the dwindling and perspectiveless middle class in association with students and progressive women.
No Turning Back
What flares up in an ever more frequent cycle – blockades, demonstrations, civil disobedience, street battles, militant actions – are the spectacular highlights that make all observers listen and hope with heart and mind. But this displeasure has long since become an everyday practice, which is growing more and more.
The authoritarian, neoliberal policies of the ruling powerful class manifested themselves in the name of Allah. This rift deepens with every explosion like the last one, and with the next uprising, which will surely come, even further. This movement is revolutionary because it will only find peace when the Islamic Republic in this form no longer exists. This can be seen in at least three points that speak from the movement itself.
Firstly, it is no longer about the individual camps of the IRI, which simulate a politically differentiated spectrum of an authoritarian regime. This was made clear by slogans like “Conservatives and reformists – the game is over”, which were already called at the beginning of 2018 and now repeated, sometimes radically sharpened, or clear, death-penalty proclamations like “We do not want an Islamic Republic” or “Down with Khamenei [supreme revolutionary leader and thus highest authority in the IRI]”.
Secondly, the aims of the actions and the forms of action speak for themselves: several hundred banks were torched. In Tehran alone 300 banks were rendered unusable, in about 15 other cities there were no intact branches in the meantime. The situation is similar with police stations and clerical symbols of authority such as portraits of leaders of the Islamic Revolution, but also other buildings such as large supermarket chains. What the government disqualifies as indiscriminate destructiveness and vandalism quickly reveals a red line and a common enemy: most bank branches as well as the supermarket chains concerned are owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the economic, political and military power bloc of the IRI. These goals, like the rarely so radical slogans, have a clear addressee: the system as such, not individual representatives. The fact that the Iranians have seen through the perfidious game in which the Mullah dictatorship gives itself a democratic character a la “executors of the will of the people” and want to end it is also shown by the background and the political calculations of those in power with regard to the gasoline price increase, which went completely to the back: The Rohani government justified this measure with the fact that they now have to redistribute because of the consequences of the sanctions and invest, among other things, in social benefits. The old pattern: the abolition of subsidies for gasoline was argued in such a way that they are unavoidable due to external factors (sanctions), but they should be reinvested elsewhere in state support and thus benefit the small people. The government, like so many governments in the IRI, presented itself as people-oriented and concerned about the needs of the small people in the austerity policy itself. What a cheek and what an own goal! Because it was precisely these people who immediately and in a radicalism not seen since the revolution of 1979 made it clear that this “redistribution” is nothing but an impertinent trick, because: How can it be that the country with the fourth largest oil reserves in the world lets its population starve to death while mullahs and Revolutionary Guards live a life in raptures – ironically at elite Western universities in the “heart of the devil”? How can it be that this country pumps tens of billions of dollars into various geopolitical conflicts and the proxy war with Saudi Arabia over regional hegemony, but workers do not receive their wages “because of the sanctions” for months and years? The people in Iran therefore rightly ask on the street “Gaza, Lebanon, Yemen – what about us?” and conclude “Islamic Republic, it’s over”.
The Rebellion to Come
“They can win many battles, but they will lose the war.” This statement by an unknown demonstrator, made in one of the last videos before the Internet shutdown, in poor resolution, filmed with shaky hands, in an unknown city, with a burning bank in the background, is taken in itself as one of the most precise expressions for the situation in Iran. People like him, hundreds of thousands of whom were on the streets risking their lives, have nothing more to lose.
And this is exactly what IRI is afraid of. Because it knows what it can mean. After all, this state itself was born out of a mass revolution against the Shah (and a subsequent bloody counterrevolution by the Islamists) and therefore knows: in the end the street decides. The moment when the Shah’s troops fired on the revolutionaries in 1979 and they marched on anyway, is considered one of the central symbols of the monarch’s downfall. The parallels are striking, but this moment has not yet been reached. The high death toll and regular executions by state henchmen on the streets, however, are interpreted as signs of nervousness on the part of a security apparatus that actually specializes in arrests and torture and now, panic-stricken, increases their stranglehold – desperate to stay in control. IRI plays a simple game: Do or die. If, in whatever way, they have to pack their bags, they can’t go anywhere. Wherever they operate openly or underhand in the region (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, etc.) there is instability, war and/or also up-and-coming insurgency movements that want to drive the old order to hell and therefore certainly don’t receive Ayatollahs in exile with open arms: the Iranian consulate in Baghdad burned down by demonstrators at the end of November has impressively proven this. Thus a high-ranking Ayatollah in relation to his own protest movement concludes almost logically: If we leave, we leave scorched earth.
What does this mean for the uprising movement? In essence, it is exactly what it has been conveying for years: No more peace is made between them and the regime. Certainly, the state is highly equipped and ideologically – still – consolidated. This prevents further organization into a social movement in the classical sense, with demands, a manifesto, leadership personnel, etc. Is that a shortcoming? This is exactly what happened in 2009: the reformist camp around Mir Hossein Mousavi launched such a movement focused on Tehran around the presidential election – and was defeated by imprisoning its leader and gradually gaining the military upper hand over the scenes of the protest – urban cities in the heartland. This is not possible here: the movement has no leader, communicates through social media and messenger programs, is very decentralized and explicitly not focused on the center of power, but on outskirts and strongholds of minorities, and regulates itself. Certainly, every repressed uprising costs human lives, torture, prison sentences, trauma and flight. At the same time, however, it increases the hatred of the entire order even more.
This insurrection behaves like the mythological figure of the multi-headed Hydra. If you cut one head off, two grow back at the same place. And the pace is growing; some time ago the Iranians proudly stated that every 30 years they started a revolution or at least a big political-social movement. Recently, the interval between such movements was corrected to 10 years – now social earthquakes shake the country every two years. The only question now is how long the mullahs can keep the claim to power to themselves.
(via The Hydra-World)