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Tehran’s futile efforts to downplay Iran’s nationwide protests

Iran protests—November 2019 (File photo)
Iran protests—November 2019 (File photo)

Iran, December 7, 2019—There’s no doubt that Iran’s November uprising has sent tremors across the entire structure of the ruling regime. Iranian officials continue to express consternation and dismay at the scale of the protests and the existential threat that the continuation of the protests pose to their regime.

But like all protest movements that have taken place in the past 40 years, the regime has tried to portray the latest round of demonstrations as insignificant, limited and incited by foreign elements. On November 20, while the protests had expanded to more than 100 cities, Hassan Rouhani, the regime’s president described the demonstrations as “small crowds” and “limited few” and said, “It became evident that our enemies, who had been planning riots in the past two years and the years before, had very few soldiers.”

State-run media constantly reported the end of the protests and described the hundreds of thousands of protesting Iranians as “a bunch of thugs who are taking advantage of the people’s assemblies,” “a few opportunists and rioters,” “a bunch of lawbreakers,” and “a bunch of rioters who have deemed the environment as suitable to damage the country.”

But for the people of Iran and international observers, the scale of the uprisings was evident. Testament to the fact was regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who issued remarks on the protests twice in the span of a single week. The regime also imposed a total shutdown on internet access across Iran to prevent news of the demonstrations and its own brutal crackdown on the protesters to leak out of the country.

Subsequently, regime officials slowly admitted to the extent and severity of the protests. A look at the remarks made by Iranian authorities in the weeks that followed the initial protests shows a stark difference with the regime’s initial assessments.

Groups with big plans

On November 26, in contradiction with Rouhani’s comments about limited participation in the protests, interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli described the protesters as “groups” that had “big plans to disrupt important highways and roads.”

Rahmani Fazli also revealed that in one location, a group of 500 protesters had made a break to capture the regime’s state-run TV.

Rouhani’s interior minister estimated the participants of the protests to be between 130,000 and 200,000 people. Given the regime’s usual habit to reduce the scale of protests, one can only imagine the real figure Iranian officials are hiding. But even this figure is significant, given the regime’s previous preparations to prevent protests from taking shape and its subsequently brutal crackdown on the protesters.

A serious plan that was deep and organized

In another confession, Javan newspaper, affiliated to the terrorist-designated Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), again contradicted Rouhani’s efforts to downplay the protests. Abdollah Ganji, the chief editor of the publication, described the protests as well-organized and the protesters as well-trained and especially focused on military and security headquarters. Ganji concluded: “The foreign conspiracy was very serious, deep and organized.”

Therefore, it’s clear that the November protests were an all-out, political and social uprising against the regime in its entirety, not the scattered protests of a few as the regime’s president initially tried to convey. You don’t need helicopters and tanks to quell a small and insignificant protest.

The enemy’s army

 Another stark admittance to the scale of the protests was made by Brigadier Yadollah Javani, the head of the IRGC’s political bureau, who, instead of using terms such as “small crowd” and “limited few,” described the protesters as “the enemy’s army” and said, “It became evident that the enemy had organized an army to carry out the riots.”

As the regime faces the serious threat of collapse and being overthrown, its officials are slowly admitting to the real scale of the protests.

In one of these confessions, Iranian MP Mojtaba Zolnour told state-run TV that at one point, the regime’s security forces were involved in clashes in 800 locations across the country. Other regime officials likened the protests to “atomic bombs” and “world war.” Salar Abnoush, an IRGC commander, said the regime’s survival was only made possible through “a miracle.”

In recorded radio communications, security officials express their fear of “thousands of protesters” gathering in different locations.

The reality of the situation has left the regime in a total deadlock. Either its officials must admit the undeniable truth that Iranians no longer want them and have risen up across the country to sweep them away, or they have to accept that this “foreign” and “insignificant” enemy that has instigated these protests is strong enough to bring hundreds of thousands of its “army” to the streets in more than a hundred cities. Either way, the prospects look no good for the mullahs.