Ali Younesi, President Hassan Rouhani’s special assistant for ethnic groups and religious minorities affairs, says the main objective of recent protests in Iran was to topple the Rouhani administration.
In an interview with centrist daily Arman, which was published on Saturday February 3, Younesi, a former intelligence minister under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, alleged that the protests were engineered by “those who lost the presidential race” against Rouhani in May 2017. But he offered other hypotheses too.
The speculations appear to be part of Iranian officials trying to explain what drove the protests that spread to over 100 cities and small towns across Iran in late December 2017 and early January.
Younesi further alleged that former hardline President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his aides had played a key part in engineering the protests and paved the way for the unrests by undermining the authority of the regime.
During the months before the unrest, an embattled Ahmadinejad, who was not allowed to run for president in 2017, and his aides attempted to disclose flaws in the regime and widespread corruption in the Iranian Judiciary after his vice-presidents, his chief of staff and a few other aides were summoned to court on charges of financial corruption.
Yet in another part of the interview, Younesi charged that Iran’s “state-run broadcaster, some Friday prayer leaders and government institutions” have had “an undeniable part” in triggering the unrests that “aimed to topple the Rouhani administration.”
Apparently, Younesi was alluding to Mashhad’s outspoken Friday prayer leader, hardline Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda and the superintendent of the city’s wealthy holy shrine Ebrahim Raisi, the underdog in the 2017 presidential race. Earlier, Vice-President Es’haq Jahangiri had also accused the same individuals of organizing the first demonstration. Alamolhoda later rejected the allegations.
Younesi did not even spare reformists, adding that he was not happy with the lower strata of the reform camp that trended a hash tag(I regret voting for Rouhani) in social media expressing their frustration with the Rouhani administration’s inefficiency in dealing with the country’s problems.
Finding it hard to acknowledge that protesters were angry about widespread financial corruption and mismanagement among other things, desperate soul searching has also given rise to other hypotheses and conspiracy theories voiced by regime bigwigs about the intentions and perpetrators of the unrest.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and some other officials have accused Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel of organizing the protests, while Expediency Council Secretary and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai came up with an outlandish idea about the involvement of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain’s brother-in-law.
Iraqi, Israeli and US officials have refuted all such claims. This comes while MP Mahmoud Sadeqi has quoted intelligence officials as saying that no foreign elements have been involved in the unrest.
While accusing each other or one or more foreign states for organizing the protests, Iranian officials appear to still be in a state of denial about the shortcomings that led to dissatisfaction, frustration and unrest.
In the meantime, latest official figures indicate that at least five thousand protesters were arrested during the unrest. Reportedly, at least six have died in custody.