Opposition rising

Iran democratic movement growing

Posted: June 18, 2018 at 2:48 a.m.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech on the 29th anniversary of the death of his predecessor and founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini. The occasion represents one of several annual opportunities for the clerical regime to reaffirm its hard-line identity and shore up resistance to those pressures, particularly by Iranians for a democratic future. Accordingly, Khamenei's speech prominently featured warnings about the ongoing efforts by the nation's organized resistance movement to expand upon the mass uprising that took place at the end of last year and the beginning of this year.

This message has been repeated in various localities, through demonstrations that feature various different groups and demographics, throughout the several months since the mass uprising was violently suppressed. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) determined that approximately 50 protesters were shot dead in January, and that 8,000 were arrested. But NCRI's president-elect, Maryam Rajavi, also predicted "a year full of uprisings," and the ongoing protests and labor demonstrations seem to be proving her correct.

Certainly, Iranian officials seem to be in agreement about the potential for continued growth of the opposition movement. Khamenei's latest general warning about the opposition, and specifically about NCRI's main constituent group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, are clear evidence of this. And this was preceded in January by his begrudging acknowledgment of the strength and political viability of that group, to which he attributed the strongest slogans and much of the advance planning of that month's uprising.

Also recently, former Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi issued a statement urging officials to be vigilant in confronting the ongoing planning for further protests that can be expected to proceed through the rest of this year and into next year. In the context of local protests that have already occurred in cities like Isfahan and Kazeroun, officials have spoken directly to the people in order to demand they rebuff the appeals of the resistance.

But it is unlikely that the regime seriously expects these injunctions to be effective. Today the organization remains the leading source of advocacy for democratic governance in Iran, and stands at the head of an annual rally outside Paris that attracts nearly 100,000 Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, along with prominent political supporters from the U.S., Europe, and beyond. The event is scheduled for June 30 this year, and it will bring international attention to the explosive domestic situation in the Islamic Republic.

The existing international support for the resistance is no doubt a further contributor to the regime's anxiety regarding its control over a deeply resentful population. At a time when a number of European governments are still striving to expand relations with the Iranian government while keeping alive the conciliatory nuclear agreement that went into effect at the beginning of 2016. The U.S., meanwhile, is pushing for a more assertive foreign policy after transitioning away from the administration that was responsible for negotiating that agreement in the first place.

If anything, the legacy of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has been to positively confirm that the domestic opposition to the Iranian regime is homegrown, and with good cause. Two years of sanctions relief failed to have any meaningful effect on the lives of ordinary Iranians, and many of their recent protests have focused on the regime's culpability for ongoing economic crises that disproportionately affect the people, and not the regime's institutions. During that same time, those institutions were responsible for stepped-up repression of domestic dissent, and the January uprising was largely motivated by predictable backlash against this situation.

This isn't to say that direct collaboration between the Iranian resistance and the international community isn't a good idea. Indeed, it is a good idea, specifically because domestic opposition to the clerical regime is sincere, domestically organized, and widespread. That being the case, there is much that the international community can do, by way of expanded economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures, to help the Iranian democratic activist network triumph in its ultimate goal, which is the ouster of the regime and the implementation of Maryam Rajavi's 10-point plan for the country's future.

That plan will be outlined once again in the context of the June 30 rally, which should leave no doubt about its alignment with the most closely held Western democratic principles. The NCRI gathering will also go a long way toward outlining the specific measures that the U.S. and Europe might undertake to make sure that as protests continue throughout Iran, they face less repression from regime authorities and reach the largest possible audience with their message of freedom.

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Hooshang Nazarali of Crosses is a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and former justice of the peace in Madison County.

Editorial on 06/18/2018