“Iranian politicians view the unrest as part of a hybrid US war against the country”

Why the guards' forces were not necessary to quell the revolt in Iran, what American analysts confessed to, and who participated in the Persian 'maidan'

The people's unrest in Iran, which began at the end of the year, turned out to be a real surprise for both experts and, apparently, the residents of this country themselves. Realnoe Vremya asked Ismagil Gibadullin, an expert on the Middle East, to give his assessment of the events. We offer our readers the interview with him.

“Mass demonstrations take place in Iran with a frequency of 8-10 years”

What was the cause of the unrest in Iran? How large are they?

First of all, I should say that these disturbances, or rather the excesses they resulted in, turned out to be a complete surprise not only for foreign observers, but also for the Iranians themselves. The country has not seen such large-scale protests since 2009. Besides, they differ somewhat from the last protest wave in the composition of their participants and slogans. However, their scale is seriously exaggerated due to the wide coverage in the Western media. Protests took place in several dozen cities in Iran, mostly in small provincial towns, including on the outskirts of the country. It seemed to me that the intensity of these protests caused some confusion among Tehran residents and the residents of other big cities.

The social base and conditions for such protests in Iran have undoubtedly been brewing for a long time. Polling data suggests some frustration among Rouhani's electorate over the lack of rapid changes in the economy after the partial lifting of sanctions. Initially, the protests involved middle-aged people, employees of small and medium-sized enterprises, who suffered from delays in payment of wages. They were the ones who took to the streets in the first days. However, representatives of the 90's generation, young university graduates who suffer the most from unemployment, take an active part in the riots. Their life positions and views are very unstable, they are more susceptible to the influence of social networks with all the consequences that follow from this — mosaic thinking, often the inability to soberly analyze the situation. They are equally disillusioned with all the political forces in Iran and can become a breeding ground for radical ideas and appeals.

How often do such actions occur? In general, there is a certain cyclicality in the Iranian protests. Mass demonstrations take place in Iran with a frequency of 8-10 years. The last major protests took place in 2009, and the largest protest before that had been the 1999 student riots. Such protests always lead to acts of violence and lead to violent suppression by the authorities, as it is most often the case with any youth protests in all countries of the world.

“However, representatives of the 90's generation, young university graduates who suffer the most from unemployment, take an active part in the riots.” Photo: news.tj

“The protests could be initiated by opponents of the reformist government's policy from among the conservatives”

Under what slogans are they held? What was the trigger? Many people talk about the Kurdish factor.

These protests are very strange, having no clear centres, no leaders, no common organization. It is difficult to understand who exactly puts forward what slogans. Initially, the protest is directed against rising prices and the government's economic policy. The reason was a sharp jump in prices for chicken eggs. However, Western media hastily spread information that they allegedly added slogans against the war in Syria and support for groups in Lebanon and Palestine, against the Islamic Republic as such, the principle of religious power -the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist and personally supreme leader. According to the first Iranian journalistic investigations, there are organized and trained groups of provocateurs on the ground, infiltrating the ranks of demonstrators, shouting similar slogans and inciting violent actions. However, the majority of the protesters do not agree with these slogans, nor with the aggressive and illegal actions of those from whom they come.

It is necessary to understand the specificity of the Iranians and their behaviour at public events. Iranians generally like to participate in mass events, especially in the evening, which gives everything a kind of carnival shade. This is often a form of night entertainment for them, which is especially noticeable during hot election campaigns. And today, many Iranians take to the streets out of pure curiosity and just watch what is happening, forming clusters of people, which is skillfully used by provocateurs.

As for the Kurdish factor, it is true that protests have covered various regions of the country, including Sanandaj, the centre of the Kurdistan province with a predominantly Sunni population, but ethnic and confessional factors do not play a major role there, although long-standing problems with Kurdish separatism have made themselves felt this time.

“These protests are very strange, having no clear centres, no leaders, no common organization. It is difficult to understand who exactly puts forward what slogans.” Photo: news.tj

Who can really be behind the protests? Are these actions really signs of the fall of the regime and demands for democratic change?

First of all, we need to differentiate between peaceful protest actions and excesses coming from groups of provocateurs embedded in the demonstrators' ranks and associated with extremist groups. According to some reports, the protests may be initiated by opponents of the government's policy of conservative reformers, or, as they are called in Iran, osulgeraian principalists, as well as the supporters of the disgraced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, as I have already said, provocateurs quickly joined the process, whose actions were coordinated by the person-speaking communities created outside of Iran promoted in Telegram. Some confusion was caused by pro-government demonstrations held on December 30 in more than 1,200 settlements in the country, which were timed to coincide with the 8-year anniversary of the 2009 all-Iranian rally in support of the government, which gathered more than a million people across the country in response to the actions of the opposition green movement. Footage of these demonstrations, which show people with Shia mourning symbols, photos of Khomeini and Khamenei, was replicated in the West, mixed with footage of opposition protests.

I would like to say separately that the Western media give extremely exaggerated and distorted media coverage of the Iranian protests. Obviously, acting on a political order, they are trying to combine all the protests, provocateurs and even pro-government demonstrations into one single image, leading the audience to think that the collapse of the Iranian regime is inevitable.

I was also personally struck by the activity of some Russian commentators like Nadezhda Kevorkova or blogger El Murid, not to mention representatives of the liberal opposition, who showed an amazing infantile nature, immediately began to draw absurd parallels between the Iranian events and Russian realities, engage in hooting, gloating and ironizing on the topic of “spiritual bonds” , etc. Especially surprising were the exalted arguments that “there is no power in the country”, about the actual victory of some enchanting uprising of the masses as a fait accompli, arguments about the transition of the army and other law enforcement agencies to the side of the rebels. All this nonsense is far from reality, but it quickly spreads in Russian social networks, picked up by other bloggers and news portals. In its wake, some unnatural alliance of the liberal opposition and Russian-speaking Salafists even appeared in social networks on the basis of a common dislike for the Kremlin and its position on Syria.

“Iranian politicians view what happened as part of a hybrid or proxy war”

Do you believe in a foreign trace of these riots?

The foreign trace is clearly visible. Iranian politicians themselves view what happened as part of a hybrid or proxy war. This is indicated by many facts, including statements by Trump and the most odious Republican politicians like John McCain and Rex Tillerson about the support of the protesters. They all say that “it is time for change in Iran”. The Trump administration has long prepared a doctrine to deter Iran. Recently, the Iranian media has once again published the materials of the report of American expert Scott Modell 'Iran on Notice', prepared last February. The author of the report is an American expert on national security, he analyzes the conditions for the 'Persian Spring', comparing the current situation with the year 2009 when it was possible to seriously destabilize the situation in the country. The report's findings are not very comforting for Americans. There are no charismatic leaders, there is no organized resistance, the people have no desire to protest, and there is no support for the opposition in the elite. The only thing that distinguishes the current situation from the year 2009 is the “availability of effective means of communication”, that is, the notorious Telegram and other social networks.

In this case, the Americans are actively assisted by their allies on the Arabian Peninsula, primarily Saudi Arabia — a long-standing enemy and rival of Iran. Out of several million tweets with opposition hashtags, about a third came from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, another 20% came from European countries, and only 26% came from Iran itself.

One of the main resources of the protesters, blocked in Telegram for calling for the creation of Molotov cocktails, is Amad-news. This resource was created about a year ago and managed to bring its audience to 2 million people by the end of the year. It is registered to a Saudi citizen and is hosted by a Saudi firm.

The decisive role of the external factor can also be indicated by the “crazy quilt” in the composition of the initiators of the riots, the parts of which could not independently agree and coordinate acts with each other. In fact, almost simultaneously, as if at the behest, Kurdish separatists, Arab nationalists of Khuzestan, Islam-Marxists from People's Mujahedin of Iran, monarchists, Sunni extremists, including supporters of ISIS (banned in the territory of the Russian Federation), secularists, and a number of radical Shiite groups opposed to the principle of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, on which the Islamic system of Iran is based, initiated defiant actions. All these forces, which are completely different in their attitudes and even hostile to each other, have only one thing in common — their contacts with the State Department and American secret services, which have become somewhat more frequent in recent months.

“Over the past two decades, Iranian women have participated in all protest waves on an equal basis with men.” Photo: AP Photo/ Ebrahim Noroozi (EN.armeniasputnik.am)

They speak especially about the factor of women (active participation, rejection of the hijab).

Indeed, one of the visual symbols of these protests has been the photo of a girl holding up her white handkerchief on a stick above her head, which turned into an Internet meme. However, I would not say that this has become relevant in the course of recent events. Over the past two decades, Iranian women have participated in all protest waves on an equal basis with men. The subject of mandatory hijab-wearing also invariably appears in the rhetoric of opposition movements. In recent years, however, the abolition of this rule or the introduction of significant concessions in compliance with it has already been openly discussed in the Iranian press.

Therefore, I would rather mention not the female factor but the role of new means of manipulating consciousness, and the increasingly expanding opportunities of social networks and messengers, which have long been a cause of concern in Iran. For the first time, at least for a short period of time, the mood of a large mass of people has been captured not by officially recognized political groups and alliances associated with reformers or conservatives, but by network movements from the Internet.

Many experts talk about the special role of the Restart movement — a kind of hybrid of the American brainwashing factory Lifespring and the Ukrainian Right Sector. The movement was created by Mohammad Hosseini, the former host of a programme on Iranian television who emigrated to the United States in 2005. In America, he created a new doctrine of personal growth and self-development based on eclectic fragments of Persian poetry and new age teachings disguising radical nationalist and atheist ideology. This is the man who called on his followers to set fire to state institutions, mosques, Shiite shrines, and attack police officers. Oddly enough, there were many scumbags who hurried to do this in practice. Such network movements, which use sophisticated means of manipulation, are difficult to control.

“The foreign trace is clearly visible. Iranian politicians themselves view what happened as part of a hybrid or proxy war.” Photo: Reuters, Kevin Lamarque (inosmi.ru)

The role of financial pyramids

It is surprising that everything broke out in the Shiite centres — Mashhad, etc. Why there?

Mashhad is the second religious center in Iran, along with Qom, where the leading Shiite educational institutions are located. We should also remember that this is a city in which power actually belongs not to the city administration but to the country's largest waqf — Astan Quds Razavi, which is subordinate to Rouhani's main rival in the last presidential election, Ebrahim Raisi. As I have already said, the conservative camp was initially interested in putting pressure on the government through organized popular protests. Other protest centres have also become small provincial cities, where the level of religiosity and support for the regime among young people is traditionally higher. This, of course, is the difference between the 2017-2018 protests and the " green movement”, which primarily engulfed the middle class and students of megacities.

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