The annual state-sponsored ceremonies of Quds Day in Iran were held this year amid rising regional tensions with Saudi Arabia, bickering between Hassan Rouhani’s government and the Supreme Leader and Tehran’s recent show of force in Syria.
Marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Quds Day was initially founded by Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, to highlight the newborn regime’s anti-Israeli stance.
This year, Quds Day marches, speeches and all sorts of social media variated from past years, as the conservatives occupied the pulpit. Hassan Rouhani was re-elected this May for a second term in office. Just over a month into his re-election, Quds Day set the stage for the months to come within the Iranian political arena.
The main theme of this years’ ceremonies was Iran’s weaponry. Iranian news agencies reported that some of the country’s ballistic missiles were put on display at a main intersection in Tehran. Fars News Agency, close to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), wrote that demonstrators were writing slogans on the missiles.
The agency did not publish any images of these slogans. If factual, this could be reminiscent of an IRGC’s missile test two years ago, when images depicted a “Down with Israel” slogan printed on a missile in Hebrew. President Hassan Rouhani later criticized the timing of the event, which coincided with nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers. Rouhani was quickly snubbed by a senior IRGC commander for his comments.
Apparently, the reason behind this year's missile display was Tehran’s recent attack on what it said was a "Takfiri terrorists’ center in Syria." The Islamic Republic has used the missile attack to boast its military might and security in an increasingly volatile region.
One State, Two Leaders
The office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei seems to have taken the Quds Day opportunity to exacerbate tension with the government of President Rouhani. This month's deadly attacks on Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum and Iran’s Parliament in Tehran has served as a political trump card for Khamenei’s camp. Conservatives and hardliners argue that, more than ever, the country needs security and a show of solidarity. “Anyone who shows up in the streets is helping maintain the country’s security," a new post on Khamenei’s official Telegram channel reads.
Attacks on Hassan Rouhani by the Supreme Leader and his camp on various issues have lately intensified, as reflected in the slogans and banners during Quds Day. Videos emerged on social media from Friday’s ceremonies with some demonstrators chanting slogans against Rouhani saying “Rouhani, Banisadr, happy union to you.” This was a reference to the Islamic Republic’s first president, Abolhassan Banisadr, who was sacked from his job after less than 17 months due to major disagreements with Ayatollah Khomeini.
Today, Rouhani is criticized on almost all fronts by Ayatollah Khamenei. The leader famously rebuffed the president in a public ceremony, saying he should heed his own decrees, especially as far as the country’s struggling economy is concerned.
Iran’s joining the UNESCO 2030 resolution has been another point of contention for Khamenei’s camp. This year, slogans lambasting the government for its alleged signing of the resolution was a recurring theme of the Quds Day rallies. Meanwhile, the absence of Iran's eldest statesman, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died last January, was particularly felt, as Rouhani appeared to be facing conservative elements alone.
One State, One Leader
The show of force during this Quds Day was not limited to erecting ballistic missiles in the hot streets of the capital. The Supreme Leader showed once again that he was the real boss as far as the hierarchy of the Islamic Republic is concerned. The scale of protests and slogans against Rouhani reached so high that it prompted several of his aides to voice their displeasure with the slander and banter aimed at their boss. Ali Rabi’ie, Rouhani’s minister of labour, came forward and said outright that such moves could not have been rogue.
It must be noted that these people and their actions cannot be spontaneous and sprung naturally from the social basis of the demonstrators.
The Trump Administration was not what Tehran reformists wished to see in the White House. The new team in Washington pushed for a tougher stance against Tehran’s missile tests and military ambitions. Along with the increasing regional hostility between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia, this outcome is probably why Iran’s Supreme Leader and his camp decided to take center stage this year on Quds Day.
Additionally, regional and international conditions are not very helpful for Rouhani. As he preaches moderation the Islamic Republic is facing a tougher stance by Saudi Arabia and the United States.
While new United States sanctions are being imposed against certain entities within the Islamic Republic, under Tehran’s nose the new face of the House of Saud does not shy away from threatening the theocracy.
Rouhani himself might believe that his calls for moderation can make a difference; Islamic Republic’s adversaries seem to think that only outside pressure can change the behavior of the current regime.
From all the anti-Rouhani manifestations during the Quds Day public events, it might be hard to draw any other conclusion.