WASHINGTON, DC — The roots of the ongoing protests in Iran go deeper than just economic problems, but involve growing anger towards the ruling theocracy, argued experts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank on Friday.
Iranian protesters have focused their ire towards the Islamic republic’s President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Rouhani is one of the architects of the national security state [in Iran]. He’s got so much blood on his hands, he’ll never be able to wash it off,” proclaimed Reuel Gerecht, a senior FDD fellow who focuses on Iran, during an event Friday titled “The Iran Protests: Implications for the Islamic Republic and Beyond.”
He went on to say that President Rouhani and the ruling Iranian regime as a whole are incapable of employing moderate policies.
“If Rouhani is being labeled a moderate than you need to have a new lexicon because it just historically makes no sense,” noted Gerecht. “So the regime fundamentally can’t [be] moderate. It’s had numerous opportunities to do so,” but has chosen not to.
Rouhani allies, including Iran’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, argue that the president’s detractors and the Islamic Republic’s “enemies,” including the United States, may have triggered the protests.
Tehran’s Islamic leadership has reportedly found a scapegoat in the form of “an ultra-hard-line cleric and Khamenei ally in Iran’s fundamentalist heartland … Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda,” reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Iran’s influential National Security Council reportedly suggested that some elements of Tehran’s theocracy hold the hard-liner, “a staunch critic of President Hassan Rouhani, who came to power and won reelection last year pressing for mild social reforms and an opening up of Iranian society,” responsible for the protests.
According to the New York Times (NYT), Alamolhoda’s office has dismissed reports that the council summoned him as “rumors.”
Protestors have reportedly chanted “death to the dictator” and “death to Rouhani”—a testament to the public’s displeasure with the country’s leadership.
During the discussion Friday, Behnam Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at FDD, declared:
There were some economic grievances, but as some of the media are trying to continue to frame it as such these protests are not only economic. They are distinctly political and they follow a trajectory of social and political protests in the Islamic Republic’s history.
Taleblu noted that the rallies might prove to be the “death knell” for the ruling regime in Iran, suggesting that anger towards the government is intensifying:
No one has been more detrimental for the national interest of Iran than the Islamic Republic [regime]. No on has bucked the interest of the Iranian state more than the leadership of the Islamic Republic. … Ultimately, I think it could be the death knell. This leadership has failed them. That’s why it’s death to Rohani. Death to Khamenei.
Despite news reports that the demonstrations are “fading,” the FDD experts predicted that the rallies, which have been roiling Iran since late last month, will continue to rage into the foreseeable future.
“The protests are still continuing despite the regime’s best efforts to say that they’ve been crushed,” said Taleblu.
To the dismay of Iran’s leadership, U.S. President Donald Trump has come out in support of the anti-establishment protesters in Iran, which has officially been designated a leading state-sponsor of terrorism by the American government.