Protesters appeared to be complaining against high food prices and unemployment; however, they quickly evolved into expressions of anger against Iran's clerical leadership – Photo compiled by Egypt Today/Mohamed Zain Protesters appeared to be complaining against high food prices and unemployment; however, they quickly evolved into expressions of anger against Iran's clerical leadership – Photo compiled by Egypt Today/Mohamed Zain

Iran's uprising: The 1979 scenario

Wed, Jan. 3, 2018
CAIRO – 3 January 2018: Protests in Iran continued through the New Year's first week.

Protests sparked Thursday in Mashhad, the second most populous city in Iran, northeast of the country, over economic issues, and have since expanded to at least 50 cities.

Hundreds of protesters were arrested.

Protesters appeared to be complaining against high food prices and unemployment; however, they quickly evolved into expressions of anger against Iran's clerical leadership, including Rouhani who promised to revive the economy.

Most of the protesters’ anger focused on what President Hassan Rouhani and his government have failed to deliver; an economic boom promised as the payoff for the 2015 deal that "curbed Iran's disputed nuclear program in return for world powers lifting sanctions", while the unemployment rate edged towards 30 percent.

Students clash with police at the University of Tehran – AFP/STR/Getty Images

State TV broadcast comments from Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, the country's judiciary chief, who said, "Those who carry out acts of sabotage, riot and unrest, and set fire to public and private venues and properties, should be dealt with strongly."

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protests in Tehran chanting slogans to bring down the theocracy in the most significant unrest in Iran in nearly a decade.

Students run for cover from tear gas at the University of Tehran – AFP/Getty Images

Footages of protests spread all over media outlets and the internet; the following is a footage of protests in Izeh, Khuzestan Province.

On Jan. 1, Reuters reported ten people killed during the street protests in Iran.

"In the events of last night, unfortunately a total of about 10 people were killed in several cities," Iranian state television said on Monday, without giving details.

"Our nation will deal with this minority who chant slogans against the law and people's wishes, and insult the sanctities and values of the revolution," Rouhani said in a statement on his official website.

State TV reported during the same day that at least 12 people were killed in the ongoing protests, while armed protesters tried to take over police stations and military bases.

People gather in Tehran to protest – Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Jan. 2, nine people were announced killed overnight, raising the overall death toll to more than 20 since the protests sparked last week.

Protesting Tehran's foreign affairs

Protesters also started protesting Tehran's involvement in foreign conflicts; they held signs that read "Get out of Syria and take care of us!", "Not Gaza, or Lebanon, I would give my soul for Iran!" and "Death to Hezbollah!"

Citizens thought that Rouhani is paying more attention to other countries than Iran itself, they objected the ever-increasing involvement in regional affairs of other countries, including his support to the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, his support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and especially backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

These demonstrations are the largest display of public unrest since the country's disputed presidential election in 2009.

International reactions

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that "the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime," adding that the "U.S. is watching" the developments.

France has also expressed concern over the "number of victims and arrests" in the protests in Iran. The foreign ministry said "the right to protest freely is a fundamental right."

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the U.S. wants to help amplify the voices of the Iranian people, who have been protesting around the country for days.

On the other hand, in his first comments since the unrest started, Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian supreme leader, blamed “enemies” of Iran for the protests.

“The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation," he wrote on Twitter.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a statement on Tuesday saying, "there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising and we look to the Iranian authorities to permit this."

"We regret the loss of life that has occurred in the protests in Iran, and call on all concerned to refrain from violence and for international obligations on human rights to be observed," he said.

7th President of Iran

The 69-year-old Rouhani is the seventh president of Iran, he has served in that position since Aug. 3, 2013; he was re-elected last year.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures to the camera after registering to run for re-election at the interior ministry in the capital Tehran on April 14, 2017 – AFP/ISNA/ATTA KENARE

He was included in Time Magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013.

In 2015, Rouhani signed a deal with six world powers to restrict its disputed nuclear program in exchange for lifting financial and economic sanctions.

Rouhani was forced out of Iran in 1977 after joining the exiled cleric Ruhollah Khomeini in Paris and addressed students across Europe.

After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Rouhani returned to Iran to help Khomeini rebuild the government.

1979 all over again

In October 1977, protests against the Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi commenced, developing into a campaign of civil resistance that included both secular and religious elements.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi - CC via Wikimedia Commons/Royal Court of Iran

Reza Pahlavi had been king since 1941 at the age of 21; in 1954, he had emerged as an absolute monarch with the overthrow of the Mossedegh regime after U.S. involvement, the matter which annoyed many Iranian, especially by the presence of many Americans in their country.

Many Iranians back then saw the United States as taking the place of the United Kingdom.

Moreover, U.S.' foreign policy strategists saw the Shah as stabilizing force in the Middle East, as they appreciated his acceptance of Israel's existence.

Iranians were still struggling economically despite the booming economy; agricultural output had been rising at a rate of 2.5 percent per year, while the population kept increasing at 3 percent per year, bringing the inflation rate from 30 to 50 percent a year due to how poorly the government managed the country's economy, not to mention that the majority of the people suffered from lacking steady jobs.

Due to bad economy, corruption emerged among government officials who were only eager to acquire some of the wealth, while the income of common Iranians failed to keep up with rising prices.

In January, 1978, 4,000 religious students demanded restoration of freedoms, when the police came and pointed their guns at the demonstrators. The demonstrators dared the police to shoot, and the police did, killing between 10 and 72 demonstrators.

Supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini hold a demonstration in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 / Aristotle Saris - AP Photo

That is when Khomeini called for demonstrations to mourn for the killed demonstrators, most Iranian embassies abroad were attacked by Iranian students and local communist youth groups, while in Iran, many clerics joined the protests and 87 religious and secular leaders called on the public to go on a strike; protestors only chanted "Death to the Shah!"

The Shah declared martial law and moved against demonstrators, however, the revolution did change the hearts of all Iranians; some policemen changed into civilian clothes and escaped confrontation with the demonstrators, while an army garrison refused to fire on protestors.

This, however, did not stop the killing of about 100 more demonstrators, while around 600 were injured.

Demonstrations continued until a fire at a theater killed 410 people in August 1978 when four men barred the doors of the cinema and doused it with petrol, they allegedly dropped a match into the petrol and fled the scene.

Cinema Rex after the fire - CC via Wikimedia Commons/Mohammad Reza Schah

The Washington Post said in 2007 that the fire was "the second-deadliest terrorist attack in modern history".

The Shah declared another martial law and a curfew, however, he was blamed for the theater incident and protests further intensified; the Shah ordered tanks and helicopters to attack crowds of protesters.

Men and women, traditionally separated in public in Iran, stand together in the streets in Tehran shouting anti-Shah slogans during the second day of demonstrations against the Iranian monarch, Dec. 19, 1978 – AP/Michel Lipchitz

Barricades were set around cities and people armed themselves with Molotov cocktails; on the day that became known as "Black Friday", the government claimed there were 168 casualties, while demonstration organizers claimed there were 2,000 to 3,000 casualties.

Ayatollah Khomeini was guiding people from Iraq to overthrow the Shah, but the Shah responded by managing to have him expelled from Iraq; he flew to Paris where he had more freedom of action, and newsmen began interviewing him.

Ayatollah Khomeini praying in France. Hassan Rouhani is behind him, second from left - CC via Wikimedia Commons/Mojtaba Salimi

Back in Iran, all workers went on a strike, demanding for better wages, the suspension of the martial law and allowing Khomeini's peaceful return, all demands which Shah did not accept. On Nov. 7, 1978 he broadcast a promise not to repeat past mistakes and would make amends.

On Feb. 1, 1979, and after fifteen years in exile, Khomeini returned to Iran as ordered by Shahpour Bakhtiar who was accepted to lead a new government by the Shah on Jan. 1979.

Khomeini seizing power

During his days as a prime minister, Bakhtiar ordered all political prisoners to be freed, lifted censorship of newspapers, relaxed martial law, ordered the dissolving of the secret police, and requested that the opposition give him three months to hold elections for a constituent assembly that would decide the fate of the monarchy.

Khomeini refused to collaborate with Bakhtiar, denouncing him as a traitor for siding with the Shah and labeled his government as "illegitimate" and called for an end to Iran's monarchy.

Bakhtiar fled to Paris. He was later assassinated in Aug. 1991 along with his secretary, Soroush Katibeh.

On Feb. 1979, prominent scholar, academic and pro-democracy activist Mahdi Bazargan replaced Bakhtiar and became the revolution's first prime minister.

Bazargan was imprisoned several times during the 1960s and 1970s for non-violent opposition to the Shah's regime.

Bazargan's power was hindered as a prime minister as governors and military commanders rejected his authority.

On Feb. 11, government buildings and radio stations were seized by groups of young revolutionaries, while huge quantities of arms were taken over as well, resulting in armed militias roaming the streets.

Khomeini and his allies of a largely committee of clerics and civilians established what Iranians recognized as "legitimate authority".

Khomeini and his allies wanted a judiciary government that is ruled by the Islamic Law, therefore, he issued in March a set of announcement such as; no judge was to be female, women were to wear the hijab head covering, declared that all non-Islamic forces were to be removed from the government, the military, judiciary, public and private enterprises and educational institutions; alcohol and gambling were to be banned and so too were nightclubs.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini greets the crowd at Tehran University on 5 February 1979 after his return to Iran from exile in France during the Iranian Revolution - Alain DeJean/Sygma/Corbis

Men and women were to be publicly segregated, and in school classrooms prayers were to become mandatory. Khomeini also spoke of music corrupting youth, and banned all music on radio and television and closed twenty-two opposition newspapers. He also announced that any spreading of corruption would be punished by death.

On April 1, Khomeini proclaimed the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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