Tehran’s default position is violence and threats but the cracks are starting to show
The Iranian regime has failed its people
The Iranian regime is in crisis. Having inflicted untold misery on ordinary citizens at home and after exporting violence, chaos and conflict to its neighbours, it is finally being challenged by the masses. Street protests that first erupted four months ago in Mashhad have continued, despite attempts to quash them by the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Instead, more voices have joined the clamour for change, from Isfahan to Khuzestan and Kazeroon. The sparks that lit the demonstrations are wide-ranging, from water shortages and mistreatment of minorities to failures in the administration system. The overarching theme that binds them all is an irrefutable reality: that the regime has failed them in every aspect of its duty of governance, from ensuring basic resources to how it views them as citizens. The lies routinely peddled by one of the most self-serving regimes on earth are finally being called out by a populace that has had enough. As one of the most damning slogans of the protesters read: "Our enemy is right here and falsely they say America is our enemy".
In a speech on Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attempted to paper over the cracks by launching a thinly veiled attack on unnamed state actors. “Being informed is people’s right," he declared. "Criticism [of the government] is people’s right”. These words are consonant with the “moderate” image Mr Rouhani has so carefully cultivated. They can lull outsiders into believing that the Iranian regime is a reasonable and just force invested in its people.
But there are no moderates in the regime, only variations of tyranny. The ongoing protests and Mr Rouhani’s speech expose deeper flaws, namely the regime's failure to deliver its most fundamental duty: a fair deal for Iranians. Mr Rouhani's televised speech is a continuation of an old pattern, whereby the shameless plunder of Iran is followed by its leaders’ soothing rhetoric. The truth is that the 1979 revolution did nothing to improve the lot of ordinary people. There is a dissonance between the extremists who want to double down on repression and supposed “moderates” who want to apply cosmetic fixes, yet both sides are united by the same desire: self-enrichment. Serving its people, the highest duty of any government, has fallen by the wayside. Instead, Tehran has fostered militancy, funded and armed Hezbollah and militias across the region and harbours aspirations of regional hegemony. The Iranian people, lied to for decades, are finally seeing the true colours of their leaders. The idea that Mr Rouhani is somehow separate from his comrades, or that he can be disentangled from the apparatus of oppression that he has helped build and to which he owes his career, is absurd. He has previously clashed with more hardline elements of the regime and the cracks are starting to show. The regime's default position is to use threats and violence, as demonstrated by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's pledge to "vigorously" resume nuclear enrichment if the US ditches the 2015 nuclear deal. Such threats cannot be tolerated. The Iranian regime needs to show significant change, both at home and abroad, before it can be considered a viable negotiator.