Relations between Iran and the United States are at a low point once again. As we all know, there are ongoing protests against social and economic inequality, but began to take on a political dimension. Partly inspired by the Arab Spring, protests had taken place in 70 major cities and over 600 communities across the country, demanding real democracy and trying to challenge the corrupt and unrepresentative system. Not all protests have upheld the commitment to nonviolence and several protests developed into riots resulting in hundreds of arrests, tens of injuries, and several deaths. The ongoing protests in the same country have also an ethnic dimension because at least 40 people from a certain minority ethnic group have been killed by the security forces. The government claims their ethnicity has nothing to do with it, but can we trust them? According to the various estimates, between three and five million people participated in ongoing protests against the president, and can we trust such leader? The answer is obvious.
The country addressed above is not Iran, but the United States. Since late 2011, the Occupy movement organized protests in nearly a thousand American cities and towns, and their primary goal is to advance social and economic justice and new forms of democracy. In the meantime, we saw the protesters chanting "We are the 99%" and various anti-system slogans, we saw general strikes and violent riots, we saw young women being pepper sprayed, men suffering a skull fracture caused by a police projectile, we saw blood, arrests and deaths. The second mentioned protests, those of ethnic nature, are lead by the Black Lives Matter movement and were triggered in 2013 due to violence and systemic racism towards the African-American community. Numerous footages of security forces' assaults on black people are still circulating online. Finally, large scale anti-President protests are those against Donald Trump, taken since his inauguration. The Women's March on Washington DC in January 2017 drew up to 500,000 people, and was the largest single-day protest in US history, as well as the largest single political demonstration in that city since the anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and 1970s. All three protests are de facto still ongoing.
Taking into account all the above-mentioned facts, i.e. number and duration of the protests, focused issues and declared demands, slogans and paroles, photographs and video footages, should we conclude that the American economy is falling apart? That the state is fully rely on repression and police brutality to maintain social control? That there is no minority and women's rights, or there are serious issues related to it? Should we also conclude that the vast majority of protesters, or of America's population in general, are experiencing intolerable economic hardships? That majority of them do not believe they live in true democracy, and they want to peacefully or forcibly knock down the whole political system? Like it or not, the answer is clear, no.
Now let's switch to Iran, what's going on there? On 28 December 2017, the demonstrations were started by crowds of several hundred people protesting in Mashhad, the second-most populous city, and in several other cities in the north-eastern province of Khorasan-e Razavi. Protestors' demands largely revolved around increasing prices of basic foodstuffs and commodities, the unemployment situation, and the unfulfilled promises of President Hassan Rouhani. A day later, protests spread throughout other provincial cities like Isfahan, Kermanshah, Shiraz, and Rasht, and also reached capital Tehran. Totally, several thousand people participated in all of these demonstrations. On the same day, more numerous marches were also held in large cities, as Iranians were commemorating the "Dey 9 epic," the anniversary of the 2009 mass rallies that were held in support of the Islamic Republic and put an end to post-election unrest back then. While mostly peaceful, in some cities the anti-government demonstrations turned violent, several protesters attacked the police and other protesters, over a dozen people have so far been killed, and tens were arrested. These are the undisputed facts.
When it comes to interpreting and analyzing the recent protests, we can see that the Western media is being heavily engaged in logical acrobatics. If we apply the questions above regarding the American protests to these in Iran, answers given by the mainstream media would be only: yes, yes, and yes. Therefore, protestors' demands allegedly perfectly overlap with wishes of governments in Washington DC, London, Tel Aviv and Riyadh, who have consistently demanded Iran's international isolation, along with the imposition of sanctions, military intervention, and regime change. The main flaw of such claims is that they completely rely upon the factual and logical fallacies. First of all, according to their interpretation, if any group of Iranians protest it 'must be' against the whole political system. This all reminds of the 2009 protests, when the political struggle between two presidential candidates, Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, was misrepresented as the pro-system vs. anti-system. It was not. In this recent case, situation is even more complex because objecting budget policies does not imply being completely against the Rouhani administration. There are indeed many Khorasani and other opponents of his presidency, mainly supporters of rival candidate Ebrahim Raisi, but during the protests their rivalry has been set aside.
The social background of the protest's initiators significantly confused the Western media. In 2009, protests were started by the middle classes in Tehran and this fitted perfectly in the well-established Western narrative about young and urban population, allegedly pro-American and with desires of drastic political changes. This is itself a very interesting interpretation, because it means if you're young and you like American music, you must be a staunch supporter of George W. Bush. If we apply the same logic to North Korea, we get that one young fan of the NBA is actually a Trump supporter. His name is Kim Yong Un. Anyway, this time the protests were started mainly by conservative lower classes from Khorasan. During the Iranian presidential election in 2017, the four provinces of this region (along with the four others) were the only among 31 where Ebrahim Raisi received majority of votes. Their stance toward the United States is generally far more hostile then among Rouhani supporters.
So, from where the 'anti-regime' stories came from, and how is it possible that a conservative principalist, at first concerned about the egg prices, suddenly accepts all guidelines given by the right-wing American think-tanks? In the Western media, everything is possible. According to their news reports, Iranian protesters allegedly chanted this slogans:
- "Khamenei, leave the country alone!"
- "Death to Rouhani!"
- "Death to the dictator!"
- "Leave Syria and think of us!"
- "We don't want an Islamic Republic!"
- "Shah, bless your soul!"
- "Free political prisoners!"
The basic question here is not how many people chanted such slogans or how many Iranians hold these views, but did it actually happen? Where is the evidence? If we take a look at photographs featuring the recent pro-government rally, we clearly see masses of people holding numerous posters of two Supreme Leaders, and "Down with the USA" or "Down with England" placards. On the other hand, there is no a single visual evidence which can confirm any of alleged anti-government/system slogan above. The only presented evidence are several muddy footages showing a small group of people on dark unidentified places, so it is not possible to confirm whether voices are coming from shown people or are additionally mounted. Even if true, we can still freely say these are several isolated cases, misrepresented in the Western media as some kind of important factor in the protests.
There are more reasons to believe that alleged chants are forgeries made by political rivals of Iran or its exiled dissidents. During the 2009 protests, one of alleged slogan was "No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, my life for Iran," widely circulated in the mainstream media. Again, no evidence was presented. There are several ironies in this claim. First, during his presidential campaign, Mousavi never advocated the geopolitical isolation, and in fact during the 1980s he was one of the main advocates of founding Hezbollah. Second, the 2009 protest came only a few years after Israeli regime experienced defeat in Lebanon and troubles and Gaza, and in the same time Tehran was also helping governments in Baghdad, Damascus and Kabul, but Iranian protesters somehow decided to focus only on chanting slogans against Israeli enemies. Coincidence, isn't it? Today, Iran is still helping various neighbors, for mutual political and economic benefits, and again the protesters spontaneously focused only on Syria. Very convincing indeed. Though seemingly subtle, a slogan "Free political prisoners" is mainly used by the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), the notorious terrorist organization.
Regarding violent riots and several assault attempts, we should clearly distingush them from the majority of peaceful protesters. Vandalizing is not an Iranian style of protesting because the Iranians are generally not inclined toward it, anyone who visited the country can testify that the walls of buildings, public transport vehicles and soft infrastructure are very clean and undamaged, much more preserved than in most European countries. A few vandals are always present in protests in any country, and their incursions are most often of the individual type. If vandalism is organized, this can be due to two reasons: for the specific purpose of denigrating the majority of normal protesters, or either for exaggerating its significance and encouraging greater disorder. Given that the Iranian authorities, including Rouhani, openly said that dissatisfied people have the constitutional right to a peaceful protest and did not generalize protesters as "hordes of vandals," the first possibility can be ruled out. We can also see on photos that the protesters as unmasked, unarmed and peaceful. On the other hand, incidents of vandalism serve only to those who want to show the protesters as terribly dissatisfied, that there is no stability in the country, and that the protesters' violence is respond to alleged state repression and police brutality. We already saw such scenario in Syria, and the same group of countries is trying to repeat it with Iran.