Iran’s Supreme Leader Blames Protests on Everyone But Himself
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has condemned the country’s recent nationwide protests as “devilish fireworks” organized by the United States, Israel, regional Arab states and Iranian counter-revolutionaries.
“Their intention was to stir things up in smaller cities and then extend them to the capital,” said the ayatollah during a speech in the city of Qom on January 9, 2018. “What I said about the existence of the enemy’s hands in recent events was not speculation. It was based on intelligence and news.”
Two days earlier, member of Parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi tweeted that intelligence officials had told him the opposite.
“According to intelligence officials, no foreign agent has been implicated in directing the recent unrest so far,” tweeted the reformist MP.
At least 25 people have been killed since the demonstrations broke out across Iran on December 28, 2017. The protests have been harshly repressed by the authorities and more than 3,700 demonstrators have been arrested.
The protests began in the city of Mashhad and quickly spread to mainly smaller cities across the country. The leaderless demonstrations included slogans against Iran’s struggling economy as well as against the government as a whole.
At least 30 million people in Iran will face higher living costs this year after subsidy cuts are imposed. More than 11 percent of the population is meanwhile jobless, with more than 24% of young adults unemployed.
“More than 90 percent of the people arrested in the unrest were young people and teenagers under the age of 25 and virtually none of them have any arrest history,” said the Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Hossein Zolfaghari on January 1.
Khamenei, whose regular sermons are taken as policy guidance by hardline security agencies and politicians, did not acknowledge these issues in his recent comments. Instead, he pointed to a nefarious “triangle” of instigators who allegedly organized the protests.
“Evidence points to a triangle of players involved in organizing these recent events. One side of the triangle is the US and Zionists [Israel] who worked on this plan for months… The second side is the rich governments in the Persian Gulf… and the third is the mercenaries linked with murderous hypocrites,” he said.
Khamenei’s mention of “hypocrites” was a reference to the banned Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK) opposition group, which now operates in exile advocating for regime change in Iran.
The supreme leader also accused the protesters of hijacking parades organized by the state to mark the anniversary of the suppression of one of the bloodiest days of the 2009 protests.
“These devilish fireworks started when the Iranian nation began their parades across the country on December 28 ,” said Khamenei. “When the people saw that foreign mercenaries would not stop their agitation, they came back for many days and continued their rallies.”
“This is a battle, nation vs. anti-nation, Iran vs. anti-Iran, Islam vs. anti-Islam, a battle which will continue,” continued Khamenei.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani struck a more conciliatory tone in reacting for the second time to the protests on January 8.
“Some people think that the people are just asking for more money and a better economy. But do you know anyone who would be satisfied with a monthly salary while social media networks are completely cut off and the comings and goings from home are restricted and you don’t even have the right to speak? You cannot buy people’s freedom and lives with money. Why are some diverting from the truth? That is an insult to the people,” said Rouhani during a meeting with senior officials at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance.
“The people have demands that are economic, cultural, social and also security-related. Attention should be paid to all these demands,” he added. “If the young generation is the majority in the country, then we should take actions based on their wishes.”
Amid his fiery condemnation, Khamenei also urged the authorities to assess whether detained protesters are enemies of the state or simply ignorant people in need of guidance.
“We should talk and enlighten students and others who entered the fray for emotional reasons,” he said. “But those who acted as pawns for hypocrites and killed people should be dealt with differently.”
Khamenei also acknowledged some of the protesters’ economic grievances.
“This past year, some people have protested in front of Parliament and in different cities because of problems facing some savings funds and financial institutions,” he said. “No one has stopped or opposed these protests. They should be heard and investigated and given an answer where possible.”
Despite the Iranian leader’s claim, some of those protests were violently repressed.
On November 26, 2017, a rally in front of the Parliament building in Tehran organized by former investors in the Caspian Credit Institution became violent after the police intervened.
The slogans included, “Caspian stole money, with government support,” “they made Islam their platform, crushing the people,” and “justice is our right.”