Beware of concerned neocons

Workers, teachers, students, school students, need solidarity from below, argues Yassamine Mather

Despite the deployment of the army, police, Revolutionary Guards and Basij, despite the fact that the population’s access to the internet remains severely curtailed, protests against the regime continue. The trigger being, of course, the killing of Mahsa Amini by the morality police after she was arrested three weeks ago for not wearing her headscarf properly.

Workers, and now teachers, university students and school students, have struck, demonstrated and fought back against regime forces. Schoolgirls, in particular, showed their contempt for the religious state - and its laws that interfere in the private lives of young and old - by joining protests, waving headscarves and chanting against the Islamic Republic.

Ordinary Iranians are no longer scared of the regime and its security forces. The fact that the regime had to resort to photoshop techniques to make counter-demonstrations appear far larger than they actually were speaks volumes.

Videos and photos on social media show demonstrations inside secondary schools, as well in neighbouring streets. There is a short online video from Karaj, near Tehran, where schoolgirls force an Basij official trying to impose ‘hijab rules’ out of their school, shouting “Shame on you” and throwing empty plastic bottles at the man until he shuttles away. Wonderful, brilliant, inspiring.

It looks as if wide sections of the population, especially the young, are so angry that they will not stop soon and no amount of repression seems to deter them. Of course, this does not mean that protestors have had an easy time. At a conservative estimate, over 140 have been killed over the last few weeks.

One of the worst examples took place at Sharif University over October 2-3. A detailed report of the events was published by the Islamic Association of Sharif University on their Twitter account and it clearly shows the atmosphere of intimidation and repression.

The Islamic Association is not known for its radical political views, or indeed for opposing the regime - hence the significance of its social-media account of these events. It reports:

The guards and presidents of the university take the students to the parking area of the university in a train, so that they can enter Timuri Square and go to the subway, dormitories or their cars, but uniformed forces with guns appear on the scene. When a good number of people arrive, those in the parking area are told that the entrance doors will not be opened and the students must first leave this area going through what is known as a hypermarket.

On the first and second floor of the parking lot, uniformed forces, with batons, guns and motorcycles, ambush the students.


Minister of science Mohammad Ali Zolfigol accused protesting students of attacking property and “wasting public funds”. An online video shows the minister amongst students, who are telling him about the security forces shooting at them with bullets and tear gas. Students say they are worried about those trapped inside the campus. One student tells Zolfigol that many have been caught in other departments and “Now we are worried about their safety ... We are worried about their lives.”

Ayatollah Khamenei (who seems quite well, contrary to some western press reports) gave his first speech about recent events on October 3. He blamed Iran’s enemies for the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa, which he called “a bitter incident”. He added: “I openly state that the recent riots and unrest in Iran were schemes designed by the US; the usurping, fake Zionist regime; their mercenaries and some treasonous Iranians abroad who helped them.”

I have no doubt that the US administration and the Isreali state could not wish for a better situation than the rebellion we are currently witnessing, but in this particular case only the Islamic regime itself can be blamed - not only for killing Mahsa Amini - and many others - but for creating both the political and economic situation that gave rise to these protests.

At a time of severe economic hardship - combined with huge resentment at the corruption at every layer of the state bureaucracy, together with anger at the ever-growing gap between rich and poor, not to mention the abandonment of the nuclear deal - the government of president Ibrahim Raisi decided that the burning issue of our time was adherence to the ‘proper hijab’ after some minor relaxations during the Rouhani presidency.

After a couple of years in an apparent coma, Iran’s ‘reformists’ are trying to take advantage of this debacle. Many ‘celebrities’ associated with this regime faction - actors, singers, film directors, football players - have expressed their support for the protests on social media. Another factor pointing to the weakness of the authorities and the fact that not a few want to desert the sinking ship.

Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a candidate in the 2009 presidential election and leader of the Green movement, has expressed support for the wave of protests and called on the military forces to “stand on the side of the truth, on the side of the nation”.

Very ironic. Had Mousavi issued similar calls in 2009, when hundreds of thousands were protesting against the rigged elections, had he challenged the supreme leader, he and his supporters might have been spared the repressive response they faced to their half-hearted opposition. As it is, his utterances are too little, too late. Men and women, workers and students, are calling for the overthrow of the entire regime and I cannot see any faction of the Islamic Republic regime being able to save it now.


However, for the most part the organised opposition is hardly principled. There are those who call for ‘foreign intervention’ and increased sanctions - actions that would only strengthen the current rulers. These are either the slogans of fools or those who are indeed associated with the current US administation or are aligned with neoconservative Republicans (like the supporters of the ex-shah or the loony Islamic cult, Mojahedin-e-Khalq, which is supported by Saudi Arabia).

All sections of the Iranian ‘left’ who have been supporting ‘regime change from above’, together with those who have benefited from Israeli, Saudi or United Arab Emirates funding over the last few years, are calling on western governments to intervene in whatever way they can. However, let me emphasise that any such intervention by North American or European states would damage the current movement. It would strengthen the regime’s flagging support and should therefore be given a suitable health warning. The demand on foreign states should still be: ‘Hands off Iran’. The Iranian people do need international support, but this should come from socialist, democratic and working class forces.

Then we have the leaders of what I would call the reformist left, led by the Fedayeen Majority, who continue to have illusions in factions of the Islamic Republic. Farrokh Negahdar, former leader of the Fedayeen Majority and a supporter of the ‘reformist’ faction of the regime, tells us:

It has been 40 years since all the opponents of the ‘vali faghih’ [guardian of the imbecile] system have been deprived of the right to compete in elections. Four years ago, all tendencies within the system, whether fundamentalist or reformist, were denied the right to participate in the elections. They ordered the elections so that the parliament and the government would be in the hands of the opponents of the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal]. The leader said, “I will appoint a government” and the people should come and vote for him.

During these four years, I wrote to everyone, everywhere I could, by appealing to every platform and said: “Revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” and “competitive elections” are the windows to hope. Do not block these vents ... Let the people come to the polls again. Biden has come and let Zarif/Araghchi’s team [foreign secretary and nuclear negotiator during Rouhani’s presidency] finish the job.

These are interesting comments. First of all, as far as the left is concerned, the repression imposed by the Islamic Republic has not been for just 40 years, but 44. However, it is understandable why Negahdar does not consider the three years and nine months he and the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party were siding with the Khomeini regime and its military forces as an era of repression. During that time he thought (and still thinks) that attacking, arresting and killing members of the left was legitimate!

Then he tells us that in the last four years instead of addressing the protestors , instead of trying to find radical alternatives, every effort has been made to address those in power. Negahdar adds: “The Islamic Republic is facing a trans-gender, trans-national, and trans-class movement.”

If you are despairing after reading the above quotes, let me assure you there is worse to come. Basically the reformist left are telling protestors to avoid violence - as if in a dictatorship brutal repression and violence is initiated by them!

Another leading figure of the Fedayeen Majority, Roghiyeh Daneshgari, tells us:

It is up to the wise forces of the country - especially the activists of Iran seeking justice and freedom - to avoid fuelling the polarisation of the country and the rise of anger and violence in social events, so that the country does not turn into ashes.

She goes on to deplore any form of violence. Protestors have no guns, no weapons. Occasionally students have used Molotov cocktails, but this has been as part of defensive measure in retaliation to tear gas, pepper gas and bullets fired by the army and other security forces. One could ask why she has not been opposing the violence of the state over the last 44 years, Where was her condemnation of violence in the early 1980s, when she was part of the ‘legal’ opposition, while we in the Fedayeen Minority faced attacks by helicopter gunships in our Kurdish bases? Clearly state violence was okay at that time and it is still acceptable - it is only resistance by unarmed protestors that should be condemned.

These people are basically fearful of fundamental change. They are happy for the current order to remain with some ‘reforms’ and they pretend to sympathise with protestors, while actually opposing them.

Sections of the left are repeating the old mistake of wanting ‘unity with all’: ‘Let us not divide our ranks - we are all Iranians.’ Well, you need to be a complete idiot not to remember where such ‘unity’ led to last time: support for ayatollah Khomeini!

It is impossible to predict what will happen over the next weeks. The police and the army have been mainly using rubber bullets, that can cause serious injury and pain, but do not necessarily kill. As the protests grow, they might well start using live ammunition and, of course, many more will be killed.

Other international events might also affect the situation in Iran. Clearly Raisi and Khamenei are close allies of Vladimir Putin, fans of his ‘determination and initiative’ in Ukraine. That might have played a role in the heavy-handed response of the regime to what started as mourning and protests over the death of Mahsa Amini. As Putin is facing almost certain defeat in Ukraine and his future seems in doubt, Iran’s leaders must be wary of losing a close ally.

All we can hope is that there is no ‘foreign intervention’ by the west.