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Rouhani Advisor Warns Of Urban Unrest As Its Underlying Causes Persist

Screen grab from a video of protests in Mahshahr on January 6, 2018. File photo

President Hassan Rouhani's cultural advisor says the potential for urban protests still exists in Iran, since its causes have not yet been dealt with.

In a videotaped interview with the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), Hessamoddin Ashena maintained on Friday, January 11, "The economic basis of the protests in December-January 2018 was similar to the ones in the 1990s, but its social basis, background and context were very different and much deeper."

In the 1990s, Iran was the scene of widespread urban protests during which a significant number of protesters were killed and arrested by security forces and plainclothesmen.

Compared with a year ago, Iran's current economic situation is actually much worse, due to reimposition of U.S. sanctions

Earlier, the Minister of Interior, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli had also warned that the causes of people's discontent still exist in Iran and only need a spark to flare-up again.

However, Hessamoddin Ashena believes that the aim of mass protests a year ago was to topple the government (Rouhani administration), but soon, it turned out that the government and the whole ruling establishment were on the same boat.

Advisor To President Rouhani, Hesamoldin Ashena
Advisor To President Rouhani, Hesamoldin Ashena

"Some people thought that they could weaken the government without harming the ruling system, but December 2018 proved them wrong," Ashena asserts, reiterating, "If the protests were planned, their aim was toppling the government, but it could have led to the collapse of the whole system."

Ashena's latest comments echoed earlier accusations against two mid-ranking clergies, the representative of the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader in Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alam ol-Hoda, and his son-in-law, Ebrahim Raeisi who is the custodian and chairman of the wealthy and powerful Astan Quds Razavi foundation in Mashhad, which is the site of a holy shrine for Shiites.

The two were blamed as the masterminds of the initial uprising that kicked off in Iran's second largest city Mashhad, and soon spread to more than 100 cities across the country.

For the first time in almost four decades, the protesters loudly chanted slogans in support of the Pahlavi dynasty, calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

"Rest in Peace, Reza Shah!" reverberated in the streets as a homage to the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty.

The enraged demonstrators also insisted that they are fed up with the two conservative and reformist camps constituting the establishment in the Islamic Republic.

They were chanting, "The end is here," in a direct threat to the two camps.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry's deputy for security affairs, Hossein Zolfaqari admitted at the time that the protests left all of the political factions of the country behind.

A former prominent "Islamic revolutionary" and theoretician, Abolfazl Qadyani went even further in 2018 by calling on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

In an essay published on the dissident website “Kalameh” November 28, former regime supporter turned Qadyani asserted, "As the economic and political crisis in Iran is worsening along with people's opposition to the religious dictatorship, specifically against Khamenei, the intelligence arms of tyranny, which are in a permanent state of fear, increase the level of suppression, believing that it is the only solution to the problems confronting the ruling establishment.”

"Their permanent fear originates from the fear of losing control and power," the 73-year-old veteran revolutionary argued, adding, “They are scared of losing the usurped power that is entangled with the despot's existence."

Earlier, on July 7, Qadiani had also criticized Iranian reformists, who still believe the regime is capable of reforming itself, saying, “they want to reform a corrupt and flawed structure,” and charged “they are either not reformists or simply cherish an impossible dream.”

He called on all political activists including those in the reform camp to demand Khamenei’s ouster and call on him to step down. Otherwise, he warned, Iranians may have to face a fate like what dictators such as Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussain created for their nations.

Nevertheless, Hessamoddin Ashena maintains that President Rouhani's Ministry of Intelligence was well informed about the December 2018 uprising, and fully prepared to control it without applying violent measures.

Ashena's comment contradicts the fact that at least 25 people were killed by the security forces during the first week of the protests, and more than 5,000 detained across the country.