For more than two weeks in 90 cities across Iran, including Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz and even the religious center of Shi’ism, the city of Qom, protesters have denounced the murder of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been picked up by the morality police for improperly affixing her hijab; three days later she was dead. The first protests were focused on the mistreatment of women by the morality police, and were led by women, who dramatically tore off their own hijabs and burned them. Those protests then widened, and their focus, for both men and women, became the oppressive regime itself. Crowds shouted, as they are still doing, “Down with the Islamic Republic!” and “Down with the Dictator!” The police, who at first fired metal pellets and tear gas, have taken to using clubs and live fire. More than 150 people have so far been killed, and more than a thousand wounded, but the protesters show no sign of being cowed.
In all this while, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has kept his own counsel. Now he has at last spoken, and it is clear he has decided on a policy of even greater repression. A report on his speech is here: “Iran’s Leader Backs Police Over Mahsa Amini Protests, May Signal Tougher Crackdown,” Algemeiner, October 3, 2022:
Iran‘s supreme leader on Monday gave his full backing to security forces confronting protests ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini in custody, comments that could herald a harsher crackdown to quell unrest more than two weeks since she died.
In his first remarks addressing the 22-year-old woman’s death after being arrested for wearing clothes deemed un-Islamic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said her death “deeply broke my heart” and called it a “bitter incident” provoked by Iran‘s enemies.
“The duty of our security forces, including police, is to ensure the safety of the Iranian nation…The ones who attack the police are leaving Iranian citizens defenseless against thugs, robbers and extortionists,” Khamenei said.
No one thinks that the Iranian citizenry are being left helpless against “thugs, robbers, and extortionists” because there are not enough police to both suppress the protesters and continue with their regular policing work. Iran is brimful with police, militia, and army men. It is the riot, and not the regular, police, and the volunteer Basij militia, who constitute the shock troops now suppressing the protesters. Besides, in addition to large numbers of both the regular and the riot police, there is always the volunteer militia, and the army that can be called in should soldiers be needed to crack down on criminals, or on political dissidents. Iran lacks many things, but it does not suffer from a dearth of armed men in the employ of the government.
Security forces, including police and the volunteer Basij militia, have been leading a crackdown on the protests, with thousands arrested and hundreds injured, according to rights groups, which put the death toll at over 130.
Iranian authorities have reported many members of the security forces killed during the unrest, which has spiralled into the biggest show of opposition toIran‘s authorities in years, with many calling for the end of more than four decades of Islamic clerical rule.
Khamenei said security forces had faced “injustice” during the protests. “In recent incidents, it is above all security forces including the police and Basij, as well as the people of Iran, who were wronged,” he said.
The security forces attack peaceful protesters with clubs and tear gas, and then with clubs and live fire, killing and wounding many, but the Supreme Leader wants us to believe that it is the well-armed security men who have faced the “injustice” of not being immediately obeyed, and having had to chase down, or to stop with gunfire, protesters who refuse to be brought to heel.
“Some people have caused insecurity in the streets,” Khamenei said, condemning what he described as planned “riots,” and accusing the United States and Israel – the Islamic Republic’s arch-adversaries – of orchestrating the disturbances.
Khamenei describes these dignified protests pejoratively as “riots.” The “insecurity in the streets” he denounces is a result of the unhinged violence of the police, who grab, beat, club, and even shoot protesters. Even bystanders, having nothing to do with the protests except watching them, may find themselves being grabbed, beaten, or even shot, in the chaos of unbridled police violence.
Amini, whose funeral in the Kurdish town of Saqez on Sept. 17 sparked the unrest that quickly spread across Iran, died after being taken into the custody of Iran‘s morality police in the capital Tehran over “inappropriate attire.”
The protests have not abated despite a growing death toll and an increasingly violent crackdown by security forces using tear gas, clubs and – in some cases, according to videos on social media and rights groups – live ammunition.
Protests continued across Iran on Monday, with university students staging strikes after security forces clashed with students at a prominent Tehran university on Sunday.
That “prominent university” is the MIT of Iran, the prestigious Sharif University of Technology. Students were demonstrating inside the university on Sunday afternoon when riot police surrounded the university for several hours, trapping the students and leaving several injured, before arresting a number of them in the latest crackdown on protesters. Now the university has been shut down to all but doctoral students.
Across Iran, in solidarity with the students at Sharif University, university students have been demonstrating against the government, and been repressed by riot police who have been both beating them with clubs and using live fire to break up their peaceful demonstrations.
This attack by the police on the cream of Iranian youth – the students at Sharif Technological University – has left much of the country aghast. And instead of the protests being quelled, more Iranians have shown up to protest than ever before. The heavy hand of the police has only fanned popular rage.
In the midst of this, the Supreme Leader finally decided after two solid weeks of protests to speak out.
He made no apologies for the behavior of the police, including the killing of so many unarmed protesters. He instead insisted that Iranians should sympathize only with the police, for doing such a trying job under such difficult circumstances. It is the police who are being done a grave “injustice.” Ayatollah Khamenei pointed a finger at the U.S. and Israel for having, he claimed, fomented the recent protests – which he insisted on calling “riots.”
Few people in Iran, and none outside, believe him. Ordinary Iranians could see how, In 90 cities across the country, the police have beaten, clubbed, and shot at unarmed protesters, people just like themselves who were enraged at the mismanagement, the massive corruption and nepotism and, above all, the ruthless suppression of dissent, in the Islamic Republic. The killing of Mahsa Amini was merely what lit the fuse. Many were enraged enough to come out to protest. Though almost entirely unarmed, those protesters have bravely faced down the police. Nor does anyone be having seen the protesters’ clearly spontaneous eruptions, either live, or on television, believe that they needed any encouragement by the regime’s arch-villains, the United States and Israel, as the Supreme Leader claims.
The Supreme Leader has now declared his total support for the hardliners, headed by President Ebrahim Raisi. Save for suggesting that the death of Mahsa Amini “broke my heart” (who believes him?), he has made no sign of sympathy with the protests. He might, for example, have expressed his “sadness” at the recent clashes “in which too many Iranians lost their lives.” He could have offered to set up a national committee of jurists to investigate the complaints expressed by the protesters, including that about “over-zealous police.” He might have promised to appoint a special investigative body to examine the charges of “economic mismanagement and corruption” in the state. Or, at the very least, he might have limited himself to an expression of “sadness” over the death of Mahsa Amini, and remained silent about the protesters and the police, leaving President Raisi to take on the task alone of suppressing the protests, and thereby becoming the main object of the resultant popular opprobrium, .
Instead Ayatollah Khamenei chose to praise the police and blame the protesters outright. He has opened himself up to even greater criticism, and louder, cries of “Death to the Dictator!” than have previously been heard. The Supreme Leader has missed his chance to show himself as less fanatical, to offer understanding of the protesters, and to demonstrate a willingness to heed their pleas. When the next wave of regime-hatred occurs in Iran – perhaps the final one before the regime crumbles into dust – the Supreme Leader will have only himself to blame. He could have modified his repressive instincts at this critical moment, but chose not to. Iranians will not forget. Let’s see if this unbending fanatic remains in power beyond the current wave, or rather decuman, of protest.