Karroubi quotes this very sentence, writing: "But you are the leader of the nation – and you are the one who has to answer to the people." Karroubi describes how over the past 30 years Khamenei has gradually usurped total power over the state, bringing the security forces, judiciary, media, foreign policy and the majority of the economy under his control. He delivers a damning indictment of Khamenei's 30 years of rule, asking with reference to the recent uprisings: "Did you hear the screams of the disenfranchised echoing for weeks through the remote stretches of the country?"

No peaceful transfer of power

Those protesting were once the grassroots supporters of the Islamic Republic, "And this was only the beginning," Karroubi warns. "To whom do you want to leave the country in this state? Do you really think that after you are gone the transfer of power will be smooth and free of violence?" he asks smugly. Earlier in the letter, he had described how Khamenei's son Mojtaba had intervened from off-stage in the most important decisions in domestic and foreign policy as well as in security matters – a jab at the debate about Khamenei's successor, which has in the past few weeks once again become a hot topic on social media.

Officers preparing for the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran (photo: Getty Images/AFP)
On 11 February 2018, the Islamic Republic celebrated the 39th anniversary of the victory over the Shah's monarchy. It was a day for demonstrations of power. Just as every year, the country's leaders did their best to generate impressive images for their own television cameras and those of foreign reporters – appearances, however, can be deceptive

This open letter on the eve of the celebrations marking the 39th anniversary of the revolution, from the pen of one of the people there at that revolution's first hour at that, says a great deal about conditions in the Islamic Republic in its fortieth year.

There are daily reports these days of various occupational groups protesting in different cities: factory workers who have not been paid for months, teachers tired of putting up with arbitrary decisions by the authorities, people who have lost all of their savings after entrusting them to sham banks.

The state, that is to say the Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary organisations (the Basij militias) are maintaining a demonstrative silence. For now. And this at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Iran of being the stronghold for all of the bloody conflicts raging in the Middle East.

Are these domestic and foreign policy challenges really harbingers of a forthcoming second Syria? Musing about this eventuality is pointless and hypothetical, some say even counterproductive. Because the political developments in Iran are still unfolding in a peaceful, civilised and very resourceful manner.

Resistance – female, creative, peaceful

The best example of this inventive and clever non-violent protest is provided by a few women who since the beginning of the unrest four weeks ago have been demonstrating in their very own way against the dress code. These young women are turning their head scarves, mostly white as a symbol of peace, into flags, hoisting them on the main streets of the cities.

Anti-hijab protest in Iran (photo: private)
Protesting against arbitrary force: an increasing number of women are currently demonstrating against the strict dress code. In Tehran alone, the police arrested 29 women for removing their headscarves in a public place. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, women in Iran have been obliged to cover their hair when leaving the house

It all started with a 39-year-old mother in Tehran whose image went around the world. She was initially arrested but then released after three days. Dozens of young women followed her example in Iranian cities small and big. Only when this imaginative campaign met with a resounding response on social media did the security forces finally spring into action. The police recently arrested 29 women because they had allegedly been manipulated "by a foreign-controlled propaganda campaign" according to the headline published by the Tasnim news agency, which belongs to the Revolutionary Guards.

President Hassan Rouhani remarked at the tomb of the republic's founder, Khomeini, that it would not be possible to suppress the critical voices forever. It is an unwritten law in the Islamic Republic that the entire Cabinet gathers each year at Khomeini's grave on the anniversary of his return from exile. Rouhani gave a short speech there that provides an idea of how serious and dangerous the president considers the current situation in his country.

An anniversary like no other

The Shah's regime collapsed because the monarch ignored the voices of the people for too long. "And when he finally claimed to hear the voice of the revolution, it was too late," noted Rouhani in his short statement. After a deliberate pause, he then looked straight into the cameras and added: "We need to listen to the critical voices before it is too late."

On 11 February 2018, the Islamic Republic celebrated the 39th anniversary of the victory over the Shah's monarchy. It was a day for demonstrations of power. Just as every year, the country's leaders did their best to generate impressive images for their own television cameras and those of foreign reporters.

They are adept at the art of splendidly staged mobilisation, because they have had plenty of practice. This year, however, rumours were afloat that the dissatisfied citizens would also want to exploit the festivities for their own ends. As it turns out, it didn′t come to that. But the commissions and committees that had been working for weeks organising the official rallies and parades were remarkably restrained and cautious this year.

Ali Sadrzadeh

© Iran Journal 2018

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

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