Over the past three decades, Iran has seen popular protests for a variety of reasons. For example, university students, particularly at Tehran University, protested in 1999 in response to restrictions on their freedom of expression. Protests again broke out across the country in 2009 following the hotly disputed reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of the republic at the expense of the reformist movement’s candidate. These two waves of protests predominantly involved Iran’s middle class — for reasons primarily related to vote-rigging and the freedom of expression.
From 2019 to 2021, several protests took place in different Iranian cities and provinces as a result of deteriorating living conditions, poverty, unemployment and price increases. These protests, in contrast to the earlier ones, were primarily led by the poor and lower class.
The protests that have raged in Iran for the past four months, however, have, for the first time, involved the intermingling of all classes, groups and factions in Iranian society — university students, writers, intellectuals, actors, laborers, non-Persian minorities and persons from the elite strata — heralding a new phase of protests against the Velayat-e Faqih regime. The Iranian regime is facing significant security challenges, prompting unprecedented concessions in an effort to appease the protesters, such as the reported decisions to dismantle the morality police and dismiss Iran’s public security director, among others.
Furthermore, the emerging cracks in the Iranian regime’s structure have spread to the supreme leader’s inner circle. Expressions of support for the protests are not limited to senior state officials or their family members, as with the late Hashemi Rafsanjani’s family, but have even extended to the supreme leader’s own family, with Ali Khamenei’s niece voicing support for the protests and urging the free world to expel regime ambassadors from their countries and recall their own ambassadors from Tehran.
Khamenei’s niece, Farideh Moradkhani, the daughter of his sister Badri Khamenei, was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison in December. Moradkhani’s mother has also publicly washed her hands of her brother, the supreme leader, and his “despotic rule,” describing his associates as ruthless and mercenaries. She also urged the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which she described as a mercenary group hired by Khamenei, to lay down its arms and join the protesters as soon as possible.
All of these developments indicate that large segments of Iran’s population have grown tired of the regime and are seeking change by any means possible. More importantly, some of the regime’s major red lines have been crossed during the ongoing protests, which we can summarize with the following.
Ayatollah Khomeini, the so-called founder of the regime, has always been classified as an untouchable red line that cannot be crossed, either directly or indirectly. However, the current wave of protests has crossed this line. In November, protesters set fire to Khomeini’s home, which had been converted into a museum, in his hometown of Khomeyn. This incident represents a definite crossing and wiping out of this red line.Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport in 2020, was a favorite of Khamenei and was popular among most Iranians for nationalist — and often chauvinist — reasons. Some referred to him as the Rostam of the present day, after the much-mythologized commander of the seventh-century Persian Sassanid army. Soleimani was aware of his popularity and was eager to make public appearances in Tehran’s squares and metro stations, allowing young men to pose for selfies with him, which observers saw as an early preparation by Soleimani to launch a political career after his retirement from the military establishment.
All of this idolatry and veneration quickly vanished amid the ongoing protests, with demonstrators setting fire to Soleimani’s statues, banners and billboards in most Iranian cities, including Kerman, his hometown, where his grave is located. Protesters threw red paint at some of the statues and billboards depicting Soleimani to symbolize the previously idolized military commander’s bloodthirsty nature. And on the third anniversary of his death early this month, banners bearing his image were burned, crossing a second red line.
Meanwhile, regardless of any disputes over the political system, the Shiite turban worn by clerics generally enjoyed respect among much of Iranian society and served as a cultural symbol, representing Shiite identity in Khomeinist Iran. The ongoing protests have destroyed this previously inviolable sacredness and public respect, leading to an increase in attacks on clerics across the country, with protesters snatching the white or black turbans from their heads. Young male and female Iranian protesters have shared footage of these incidents on social media, turning them into iconic images of the ongoing protests in a direct attack on the symbols of the regime’s authority and crossing another red line.
Finally, people worldwide usually cherish their nations’ flags, even kissing them to express their love for their homeland. This has certainly not been the case in Iran during the ongoing protests. Protesters in several cities have been seen burning Iranian flags or banners featuring the country’s flag, such as during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Protesters believe that Iran’s current flag represents the ruling regime’s political system rather than their homeland.
The flag was created following the 1979 revolution, when the new regime removed the lion and sun from the historic Iranian flag and replaced them with the present red central emblem meaning “God” and representing the five pillars of Islam. Along the horizontal peripheries of the top and bottom bands of color is the phrase “God is Great,” written repeatedly in small letters in the Kufic script. Some theorists have even suggested that the symbols on the flag are inspired by the Sikh religion, based on a rumor that the Khomeini family originates from India. Regardless of all these details, the protesters have repeatedly burned the Iranian state’s official flag, which represents Iran in all international forums, crossing a fourth red line for the ayatollahs.
The protests in Iran continue, even as death sentences are issued against protesters on a weekly basis, with the regime growing ever more desperate to crush the demonstrations. While the regime attempts to spread fear and intimidation among the protesters, the latter appear to be betting on the element of time to be sure that the continuation of the revolutionary momentum eventually leads to a political uprising that will shape Iran’s next political system. In this context, the question that springs to mind is: What are the remaining red lines and when will the protesters cross them?
Source » arabnews