The most important theme in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s sermon on Friday was “the people”. Iran’s Supreme Leader talked about “the people” in four different parts of his rare sermon.
First, he attacked those who during protests chant “No Gaza, No Lebanon”, when they demand resources to be spent at home, instead of adventures abroad. Khamenei said that these “people” are those who have been deceived,
Second, he talked about those who tore up the picture of his beloved Qassem Soleimani’s during protests in recent days and he insinuated that these are not true Iranians.
Third, he mentioned those who demand answers about how a passenger plane was shot down near Tehran’s airport on January 8 killing 176 people onboard. He also accused those demanding answers of gullibility for believing the foreign media, meaning Persian-language news outlets abroad.
Last, Khamenei categorized the families of the victims of the air disaster into those who remained loyal to him and those who criticized the regime.
In short, more than talking about Donald Trump and “the enemy”, the Supreme Leader talked about disillusioned Iranians who protest.
Perhaps one can surmise that part of his anger at the people comes from the demise of Soleimani, killed by an American airstrike earlier this month. Khamenei lost a close and trusted aide. But more importantly, he is deeply upset about himself; about being the target of radical slogans in the streets.
It seems that gradually the Supreme Leader is moving from the dichotomy of "Khamenei vs the enemy" to the dichotomy of "Khamenei-vs-the-people".
Twenty years ago, he was telling his followers that if someone tears up his picture simply to ignore it. His followers saw in this a Shiite martyr’s humility and shed tears for him. But today, he calls those who tear up Soleimani’s pictures as un-Iranian; sowing the seeds of hate in his followers against protesters.
This policy of creating division, which Khamenei had always preached against, simply shows the degree of his anger against opponents.
The essence of Khamenei mentality is “the enemy”. He has long searched for enemies abroad and within the ranks of his own government. But today he is looking for enemies among the people.
The truth is that those who chant “No to Gaza, No to Lebanon” come from all walks of life and all regions of Iran. Those who protested in the past two decades were angry at Khamenei’s decisions and policies. They simply came out into the streets agitated by various events, but they were all demanding change.
But they have become all the same for Khamenei, no matter who they are, where they come from or what is the specific trigger for their protest. Ayatollah Khamenei says they are not Iranian; they do not understand the national interest and are influenced by “the enemy”.
The reaction of the people is also clear. Every time they come out into the streets, they invent new slogans that rhyme very well and are directed against Khamenei. They all consider him responsible for crises Iran faces and demand his resignation.
From an overall perspective, events are taking their natural course. The people have found their most important “enemy” and Iran’s Supreme Leader finds himself face to face with HIS most important “enemy”.
This dichotomy is nothing new but it is growing and deepening and it will be the most important factor shaping political events in Iran.