Back in July, a three-day conference was held by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) to discuss the future of Iran and the prospects of a change of government. In the wake of the presidential election boycott the month before, these prospects already appeared to be substantial.
Bruce McColm, the Director for Institute for Democratic Strategies said, “Before the pandemic, Iran was experiencing a virtually unprecedented growth in that unrest, with one nationwide uprising encompassing more than 100 localities in January 2018 and another being nearly twice as large in November 2019.”
In both of those uprisings, protests chanted slogans such as ‘death to the dictator’, emphasizing the public’s want for regime change. This message has since featured in many smaller-scale demonstrations and was firmly behind the boycotts of both the parliamentary and presidential elections.
The Iranian regime’s opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) had a great influence over those boycotts, as it had done during the major uprisings in the past few years. The regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged back in 2018 that the MEK had ‘planned for months’ to lead protests across Iran and popularize anti-government slogans.
In the subsequent uprising that year, Khamenei and regime officials violently suppressed the movement, but later warned about the potential of the MEK leading further protests to expand ‘its social profile’. These warnings have persisted through new recent waves of protests.
McColm said, “While many of those protests have been focused on specific grievances such as poverty-level government wages, poor resource management, water shortages, and blackouts, many of them have still featured the demands for regime change that defined the uprisings in 2018 and 2019.”
These demands have been reiterated by the Resistance Units during their public displays, including burning public images of the regime’s Supreme Leader and risking arrest from regime authorities by displaying photos of the NCRI’s president-elect, Maryam Rajavi.
Spurring these activities is the growing sense that the only way that the problems that Iranian citizens are currently facing can only be resolved with the overthrow of the Iranian regime. Maryam Rajavi highlighted this during the conference in July, stating that it would be a driving force behind the increase of ‘hostility and enmity between the Iranian regime and society’.
It appears that both the regime and the Resistance groups agree that with the unrest in society, the regime is in a vulnerable position. However, while the regime is working to conceal this fact, the Resistance groups are working towards exploiting this fact.
McColm said, “The outcome of this competition may very soon be determined by whether Iran’s foreign adversaries are also able to recognize the same vulnerability, and whether they choose to facilitate Tehran’s concealment or to join the NCRI in adding to pressure on the regime.”
By installing Ebrahim Raisi as the regime’s new president earlier this year, the regime has shown clearly just how threatened they are by the growth of unrest in Iran over the past few years. Raisi is known for his legacy of awful human rights abuses, including his involvement in the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988, and his part in overseeing the crackdown of the 2019 uprising during his role as the head of the judiciary.
The question now remains whether the international community will continue to turn a blind eye to his crimes against humanity, instead of holding him accountable for his actions, or whether they will decide to put more pressure on the regime.
McColm said, “Only by adopting the latter option will Western powers be fulfilling their solemn duty to safeguard human rights for vulnerable groups throughout the world. But what is just as important is the fact that this strategy will challenge Tehran’s longstanding impunity and thus make it less likely that the regime will expand its nuclear activities, it is the financing of international terrorism or any of its other malign activities.”