Anyone can tune in to the “frequency” of protests, but some individuals are trying to “jam” the signal, says Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Speaking to journalists at the end of his cabinet’s final session of the year (which ends March 20, according to the Persian calendar), Rouhani was referring to widespread anti-establishment protests that took place in late December and early January across the country, leading to thousands of arrests and at least 25 deaths in the ensuing clashes with police and security forces.
“We should listen to the people,” Rouhani said. “The government should have ears and listen. Everyone should listen to the message of the people, though some do not want to do so…these ‘frequencies’ of protest should be monitored, and the time for jamming them is over.”
Protests broke out December 28, 2017 in the Shi’ite holy city of Mashhad, with demonstrators voicing anger over increasing economic hardship. The protests soon spread to more than 100 Iranian cities, and demonstrators began demanding broader changes to the country’s economic system and an end to corruption and cultural restrictions.
It wasn’t long before allies of the Supreme Leader Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, including the prosecutor-general and other conservatives, accused the C.I.A. of orchestrating the protests in cooperation with elements close to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain and the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a militant group in exile that advocates the overthrow of the current regime.
Khamenei, for his part, described the protests as a “foreign enemy counterattack,” financed by a “stinking rich government” in the region, an obvious reference to Saudi Arabia.
During some demonstrations—especially those in the two holy Shi’ite cities of Qom and Mashhad—angry participants chanted slogans in support of Iran’s last royal dynasty, the Pahlavi, and explicitly against the current ruling system and its leaders.
Furthermore, the protesters demanded an end to the theocratic system in Iran that is controlled by clerics. They chanted slogans against both reformist and conservative factions that have ruled the Islamic Republic for nearly four decades.
Nevertheless, Khamenei and his conservative allies insisted that the protests were orchestrated by Iran’s foreign enemies.
President Rouhani was not the only one to oppose the Supreme Leader on this point, however. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli agreed the unrest was not provoked by outsiders, saying research shows the protests were home-grown.
“This does not mean that dissidents and the anti-Islamic Republic opposition did not take advantage of the protests and intensify them for their own ends,” he told a government-run daily. “As a matter of fact, they did their utmost to stoke the fires and profit from the unrest.”
Prominent economist and advisor to President Rouhani Masoud Nili has echoed the interior minister’s comments, warning that the protests could “reoccur and spread” if the government fails to win the nation’s confidence.
“Everyone is against each other. It’s as if there were a patient in serious condition at the hospital and the relatives are fighting the doctors and one another at the same time,” Nili said, referring to political in-fighting and widespread dissatisfaction in Iranian society.
Moreover, Nili cautioned, “The demonstrations were a warning that further, wider protests might be on the way. Next time, it might not be possible to control them.”