As Iran’s protests enter their fifth week, they are taking an unprecedented course. The house of the man who led the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, has been burned, and protests have broken out in most of the country’s cities and villages. This includes Khomeyn, Khomeini’s hometown. We have also seen the phenomenon of knocking turbans off of clerics’ heads become widespread.
Despite the violence that the regime has inflicted on the protests, it is clearly in a tight spot. This analysis is built on solid facts. Two are the most notable. First, the head of the IRGC, late last month, threatened that the protesters would not be on the streets another day, but the protests have spread to new areas. Second, we have the speech the Iranian Supreme Leader gave to “a crowd of Asphahanis.” Broadcast in three different forms, on the supreme leader’s website, Fars New Agency, and Irana, the speech made the Supreme Leader seem confused and defensive.
“Some inside Iran are promoting Western propaganda, saying that the Islamic system has little freedom and allows the people little sovereignty, but the mere fact that they are saying this is an indication of freedom,” Khamenei said. This is ridiculous enough, but he then adds that “the forces behind these acts of vandalism failed to drag the Iranian people to the street. They are now seeking to take more of these actions to pressure the authorities, but they will end.” He contradicts himself in the next sentence!
Khamenei then talks about the importance of “hope.” “That is why the enemy seeks to spread hopelessness among the people… we still have hope and vigor in our society.” This means that the Supreme Leader acknowledges that the people have lost hope. Why else would he mention it and recognize that the economic problems are “real.”
Most importantly, he said that “we must punish the perpetrators of crimes and murder, as well as those who have spread destruction and threats, setting fire to stores, cars, and people. Those who forced them to perpetrate these actions must also be punished for their sins and the crimes they committed.”
In another framework, Khamenei was quoted as saying: “Those who have been fooled should be educated. However, criminals should be punished, and no one has a right to punish them without due process. This contradicts the demands of the hardline deputies that demanded protesters be dealt with violently.
Khamenei’s statements are noticeably different from those he made in 2019. At the time, Reuters wrote: “After days of protests across Iran last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared impatient. Gathering his top security and government officials together, he issued an order: Do whatever it takes to stop them.” Today, things seem different.
This is not to say that the regime has not perpetrated crimes but that the regime has failed to disrupt the protests, which the French president has rightly called a “revolution.” It is to say that the statements of the Supreme Leader and head of the IRGC demonstrate that they are confused, unable to act, and afraid of something.
An expert recently told me that towards the end of his reign, the Shah “was reluctant to deploy the armed forces to avoid giving them the upper hand once his son took power. Today, Khamenei is afraid that armed forces could dominate the reign of his son Mojtaba, whom he hopes will succeed him.” I think the same applies to Ebrahim Raisi, who aspires to succeed the Supreme Leader.
In short, what is happening in Iran indicates that as the people rage, the regime stands perplexed.