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Iran Officials Concerned As Foreign-Based Opposition Is Empowered

Iranian students clash with riot police during an anti-government protests around the Tehran University in Tehran, Iran, 30 December 2017

During a speech at the Iranian parliament on December 18, Iran's Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, a mid-ranking cleric, said various opposition groups are attempting to unite under the U.S. supportive umbrella.

Although Alavi claims the U.S. is trying to unite Iranian foreign-based groups, there is no tangible sign that such a process might have indeed started. This claim might be aimed at his own audience within the regime.

Alavi further accused foreign intelligence services of being directly involved in actions against Iran's national security.

This was the first time an Iranian official admitted the importance of opposition groups in Iran's domestic politics. Usually Islamic Republic officials tend to ignore the opposition and belittle their political significance and power.

The main factor giving more prominence to exiled opposition was the strong support many protesters voiced for the Pahlavi royal family and Prince Reza during mass protests earlier this year.

It also appears that as Persian-speaking media lent more prominence to major opposition groups including royalists and the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) during the past year, the Islamic Republic became increasingly concerned about their power and possible impact.

A Radio Farda Program on Friday December 21 probed into the status and influence of the Iranian opposition.

The Sixth Hour program, hosted by Radio Farda's editor-in-chief, Niusha Boghrati attempted to find answers for the questions such as who are the Iranian opposition? What is their political nature and function? How influential are they? And in practical terms, how capable they are to bring about a serious change in Iran?

The Iranian community in Stockholm, Sweden and their Swedish supporters gathered to show their solidarity with demnstrators in Iran. January 2018.
The Iranian community in Stockholm, Sweden and their Swedish supporters gathered to show their solidarity with demnstrators in Iran. January 2018.

A listener phoning in at the beginning of the program said, "The opposition are the same as the Iranian people who are gradually converging and supporting each other." He added that support various domestic groups have lent to the steel workers in Ahvaz was a sign of strengthening of the opposition.

Another listener disagreed, saying that part of the opposition living abroad has been maintained by foreign powers and another part are the same people who have been expelled from Iran after the 1979 revolution. He also characterized another part of the opposition forces who are active at Iran's borders in the East and West of the country as separatists. He said Alavi's statement did not mean that opposition groups have any power.

Yet another listener said that a majority of Iranians are nowadays more inclined to support Prince Reza Pahlavi because they remember both the welfare they enjoyed in Iran under the Shah and the hard times they have under the Islamic Republic.

Alireza Kiani, a member of Farashgard (resurrection), a group that wants regime change, said that the intelligence minister's concern about the opposition was genuine. He added that a paradigm shift took place during the protest demonstrations at the beginning of 2018 which changed the scene. While during the past two decades the Islamic Republic had managed to introduce elements inside the country as opposition, these protests put an end to such plots.

"Slogans in those demonstrations questioned the legitimacy of both political factions active in the Islamic Republic and expressed support for monarchy. This brought the term 'regime change' to spotlight and made it a widely used expression in the Islamic Republic's top political echelon," Kiani said.

He added that Khamenei's recent concern about what might happen in 2019 also showed his fear of the empowerment of the opposition.

Political analyst Sina Azodi also said that Iranian security officials are preoccupied with the idea of the threat of a powerful opposition force abroad. However, he said that Alavi's remarks were partly aimed at getting more budget for his ministry. He said, "The concern may be exaggerated, but it is genuine as opposition groups are on track to coordination and union."

Saeed, a listener commenting about the extent of influence of foreign-based opposition on domestic developments said, "They are certainly influential in bringing about changes among people in Iran and that has given rise to the kind of concern raised by the intelligence minister.

Another listener said that the opposition needs to be united if they want to be really influential. "They need to agree first on their main objective, for instance regime change. They cannot be influential without a united voice."