Anti-regime protests shake Iran
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out at the country’s foreign “enemies” this week after anti-government protests erupted nationwide, posing the largest challenge to the theocratic regime since the 2009 Green Movement uprising. At least 21 people were killed as security forces cracked down on the demonstrations, which began in the northeastern city of Mashhad when residents took to the streets to protest rising food prices and rocketing inflation. As unrest spread, including to conservative provincial towns, the protests took on a harsher anti-regime tone. Demonstrators railed against corruption and Iran’s costly interventions in Syria, Yemen, and other war zones; some chanted “Down with the Islamic Republic!” and “Death to the dictator!”—a reference to Khamenei. Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, said protesters had a right to demonstrate, but Tehran’s Revolutionary Court warned that they could face the death penalty for moharebeh, or “waging war against God.” Khamenei accused “the enemy”—shorthand for the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia—of “using money, weapons, and intelligence services” to undermine the Islamic Republic.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called those allegations “complete nonsense” and requested an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. The Trump administration stopped short of calling for regime change, but raised the possibility of imposing more sanctions on Iran. “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” said President Trump, who promised “great support from the United States.”
What the columnists said
“Could we see a new Iranian revolution in 2018?” asked Ilan Berman in USAToday.com. The angry crowds on Iran’s streets this week weren’t just protesting the country’s “ongoing economic malaise.” They were offering “a wholesale indictment of Iran’s clerical system.” But change will not come “easily, peacefully, or soon,” said Karim Sadjadpour in TheAtlantic.com. Iran’s new protest movement is unarmed and leaderless—and faces an “organized, rapacious ruling theocracy.”
If Trump wants to help, he should “keep quiet and do nothing,” said Philip Gordon in The New York Times. Iranians won’t appreciate the backing of “an American president who has relentlessly opposed economic relief for their country and banned them from traveling to the United States.” Worse, Trump is threatening to terminate the 2015 deal that gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs to its nuclear program—a belligerent move that will rally Iranians to a government “they might otherwise despise.”
President Obama kept quiet—and look how that turned out, said Ben Shapiro in NationalReview.com. Trump’s predecessor deliberately ignored the 2009 pro-democracy demonstrations so he could get “cozy” with the regime and secure a nuclear deal that he claimed would reform Iran. Protesters were gunned down, and the mullahs pocketed the money from the deal’s lifted sanctions before embarking on military adventures across the Middle East. Today, the odds of a Persian Spring are as long as ever. But at least this time, Iranians “have an ally rather than an enemy in the White House.”