x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tehran betrays brave words by its own actions

If Egypt and Tunisia have proven anything, it is that decades-long grievances cannot be trodden underfoot forever. Mr Khamenei may still pay lip service to a revolutionary line, but he seems to have forgotten that real grievances and an oppressive regime were the spark of 1979.

As protests once again surface in Iran, the statements of its leaders have become impossible to reconcile with their actions.

Amid comparisons of the Egyptian revolution to Iran in 1979 - which were always something of a stretch - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a sermon a few weeks ago calling on Egyptians to rise against a "traitor dictator", the former president Hosni Mubarak. "The enemy is using its security forces against you in order to put fear and intimidation in your hearts," Mr Khamenei said.

One wonders if Mr Khamenei saw the irony in his words. Under his watchful eye in 2009, thousands of military and state police suppressed members of the Green Movement following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial re-election. The arrests, indefinite detainments and allegations of torture that emerged revealed how far the stated aspirations of 1979 had fallen under the heel of the regime.

As the events of 25 Bahman (February 14 on the Iranian calendar) show, the opposition's anger remains strong, as does the regime's anxiety. Basij militia and local police forces were deployed to monitor protests, with demonstrations spanning the city of Rasht in the northwest to Shiraz in the southeast. Chants against Mr Khamenei clearly did not place him in the revolutionary camp: "Mubarak! Ben Ali! Nobateh Sayyid Ali!" ("Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it's time for Sayyid Ali!").

Rather than answer grievances, Tehran fell back on its old coercive tactics. The government deployed security forces, twisted the local media to portray demonstrators as a small group of seditious troublemakers and suppressed communications. The opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi were again placed under house arrest, with pro-government politicians calling for their execution. Internet and cell phone communication were also drastically curtailed.

The regime's response has differed little from previous demonstrations, but it does nothing to address the demands that spurred the last round of violence. The Greens may have been crushed, but they have not been placated. Recent economic reforms seem to have made little impact on the frustrations of so many.

If Egypt and Tunisia have proven anything, it is that currents of change cannot be trodden underfoot forever. The regime's leaders may still pay lip service to a revolutionary line, but they seem to have forgotten that real grievances and an oppressive regime were the spark of 1979.