When fear changes sides

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

On Dec. 28, in the city of Qom, a mullah severely chastised a woman and warned her about not wearing a hijab. The woman, stung by the insults, grabbed the mullah’s turban, threw it on the ground and kicked it. A video clip of the encounter was taken and widely shared on social media. The woman was arrested; her fate is currently unknown.

Also on Dec. 28, an elderly woman arose at a gathering of pensioners in front of the Iranian Parliament. “We gave our youth to make this country a (very good) country,” she shouted. “But you have destroyed everything, and now it is your turn, you mullahs, to be destroyed.”

Recently, Mohammad Reza Zaeri, a well-known cleric, made a shocking confession on Instagram: Anger and hatred has grown so strong against him, he said, that he has been spat upon and publicly cursed in just the last 10 days. (One reason for this open disgust could be his suspected association with men now on trial for the attempted bombing of a “Free Iran” rally held in Paris in 2018).

Elsewhere in Iran, demonstrations continue daily as workers, pensioners, teachers and others protest their meager or unpaid wages that are leaving tens of thousands of their families in poverty.

The Iranian people’s discontent with Iran’s regime has festered as long as the Islamic Republic has been in power. But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his allies reject the people’s protests at government corruption and instead blame the United States and the West for the unrest. By linking the protests to hated foreigners, the clerics believe they can justify their savage repression of the people: There were 350 executions in 2021 alone.

But the eruptions of public anger cannot be stopped; a fire under the ashes is ready to blaze.

Dictators always rule with the backing of repressive forces, but in Iran, years of coercion, corruption and pressure on the people have eroded most of the popular support for Iran’s regime. Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi’s cabinet has more than 30 members of the Revolutionary Guard, and every day the governor replaces an IRGC commander. Iran is now run by numerous operational headquarters. The regime says it has installed cameras and patrols on every street to prevent the flames of discontent from spreading.

Such monitoring still couldn’t save a statue of Qassem Soleimani. The late military mastermind is an icon of the Iranian regime’s regional influence and terrorism, but Soleimani is also hated for killing hundreds of thousands of Syrians, including children, and for the bloody massacre of the Iranian opposition. When the regime installed a statue of him in the town of Kurd in Iranian Kurdistan, it went up in flames hours later.

Other flashpoints of opposition include Ali Khamenei’s unpopular policies, such as building an atomic bomb that would have damaged the Iranian economy by $2 trillion, or the regional infiltration and formation of a militant network that has brought 60 million Iranians below the poverty line despite Iran’s native wealth of resources.

Many Iranian people see their country as occupied by an unwanted regime,  similar to how Europeans felt when their lands were seized by Nazi forces. Not surprisingly, Iran also has seen resistance units arise to save their country from this religious dictatorship.

On Jan. 9, Supreme Leader Khamenei appeared to be trying to fend off any public support for these resistance units when he warned the people against “those who are trying to undermine hope in the youth and make them desperate and distrustful of the future.”

“Do not let some people move in cyberspace and non-cyberspace with their temptations in the opposite direction of giving hope to the youth,” he said.

There are times when dictators do not listen to the people, and the people can become afraid. But when the voices of the people turn into a flame of anger, it is the people who will no longer listen to the dictators — and then the dictators can become afraid.

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Hamid Enayat
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