Ebrahim Raisi takes office
The Iranian regime will stop at nothing to ensure survival

Against the backdrop of growing protests over water shortages, Iran's new hardline president took office last week. For ordinary Iranians, a life in fear and repression will continue, writes Azadeh Pourzand

The recent protests that erupted under the pretext of socioeconomic deprivations, but are rooted in political grievances stemming from decades of lack of accountability and repression, have become a trend in the country.

Regrettably, the brutal crackdown of these protests by the regime is also the disconcerting order of the day. This is all while the authorities continue to make twisted statements, warning against the conspiracy of "the enemy" against the nation.

What do the protests mean for the Islamic Republic of Iran? Having failed to deliver on the promises of the 1979 revolution, including social justice, some observers such as German-Iranian political scientist Ali Fathollah-Nejad, warn that, "..[W]ithin the socioeconomic, political, and ecological triple crisis, the political crisis constitutes the center of gravity," marking a chapter of "turmoil and potential instability."

The regime's violent crackdown and continued persecution of activists and minority groups highlight more than ever the culture of impunity in today's Iran.

Protests in Khuzestan Province, Iran (photo: Mellium.org)
People take to the streets to protest in Iran at regular intervals. Every time they do, the protests are brutally crushed. In July, for example, security forces in seven cities opened fire on demonstrators. Images on social media show the use of heavy force against protesters. Amnesty International has said that in addition to tear gas and rubber bullets, live ammunition was used. Pictured here: people protesting in Khuzestan Province

New president, old approach

Against the backdrop of discontent about the country's dire socioeconomic conditions, some Iranians speculate that the end of the Islamic Republic is in sight. But I worry that the Islamic Republic would go above and beyond to ensure its survival, even if it means mass murdering hungry and thirsty protestors and turning the streets into a bloodbath.

This is particularly a deep concern of mine, given that one of the most notorious hardline human rights abusers of the Islamic Republic, Ebrahim Raisi, is now president.

The aging Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is no longer willing to take chances with the so-called moderate or reformist fractions of the Islamic Republic. Indeed, it was during the presidency of the so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani that at least hundreds of Iranians were killed by state authorities during the November 2019 protests.

Still, Iran's Supreme Leader seems to prefer a leadership that takes an even more hardline approach, and one that is unequivocally loyal not only to his orders but to his long-term vision for the Islamic Republic beyond his lifetime. A vision where fear will play a key and even more pronounced role in controlling today's chaos.

Consolidating power through compromise?

Meanwhile, Iran's hardline leadership knows very well that they need the affinity of, or at minimum some form of transactional relationship with the United States and the West, in order to survive.

Azadeh Pourzand (photo: Azadeh Pourzand)
Azadeh Pourzand is the co-founder and director of the Siamak Pourzand Foundation, an organisation dedicated to promoting human rights and, in particular, freedom of expression in Iran. She is currently a global media and communications PhD researcher at the University of London's School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS)

However, they want to find a way to solve this impasse without compromising on their ideological anti-western and anti-Semitic rhetoric and with their regional meddling and ambitions intact. It is unclear how the newly hardline consolidated leadership of the Islamic Republic will find a way to make amends with the Biden administration and to have the US economic sanctions removed.

But with the reformist camp curtailed, the hardliners may be more willing to find a way out of this impasse. Their thinking is that improved relations with the West will secure and sustain their rule more effectively.

Fighting against its own

As someone whose childhood was spent outside Iran's prisons looking for and visiting my parents who fought for human rights in Iran, I am deeply saddened to see that today, millions of Iranian children and youth continue to face political repression and increasing poverty.

When I was growing up in post-revolutionary Iran and in the years following a bloody war with Iraq, the country's leadership used to call anti-revolutionary and secular people like my family westernised, infidels, and enemies of the state. They said we threatened the prosperity of the Islamic Republic's real constituencies, the so-called downtrodden (mostazafin) class – the Islamic Nation (Umma), whose interests they claimed to represent against ours.

Decades later, it is that very Islamic Nation, the segments of the population they claimed to represent, that has risen against them because they are hungry, thirsty and dying of the coronavirus at a worrying rate. And yet the authorities use live ammunition to contain this very Umma they once called their own. Such is the plight of the Iranian people today.

Azadeh Pourzand

© Deutsche Welle 2021

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