Iran’s Protests & Why They Failed
A short summary of six days of protests
By Sayed Mostafa Mousavi
January 08, 2017 "Information Clearing House" - While legitimate grievances & protests exist over internal issues in Iran, some "Iran analysts" are truly getting over excited. Has Iran ever been on the verge of a true regime change movement in the recent days? Let’s open the issue up a little bit & see who’s in the streets, how large exactly are the crowds & who’s joining them.
This article was written on the span of 3 days. Part one explains how the protests started for the first four days, part two gives updates for the fifth & part three gives a final update for the sixth day of the protests in Iran.
Part I: Days 1-4
The protests started in Mashhad in a gathering by people who had lost their savings due to the closing & bankruptcy of some financial institutions, known as the “Caspian Affair”.
A handful of other similar protests took place in other cities but in a quick turn of events, some groups started slogans & protests about other issues, such as regime change, monarchy, etc. … While this turn of events did alienate many Iranians from joining the protesters but it also inspired other dispersed yet more aggressive & opportunistic interest groups to step in.
Seeing opportunity & with the help of social media apps like Telegram, these marginal groups started organizing. This was almost done solely by one single Telegram channel, a foreign based & suspicious “AmadNews”.
This channel was taken off network twice after violating Telegram’s non-violence code, openly encouraging people 2 take up arms, attack police with homemade bombs. It now operates with another name, literally giving out protest directions every night, for the next day…
What is interesting however is that the aggressiveness of the protest organizers has clearly led to a backlash. Some figures from the reformist camp, the traditional opposition in Iran that shaped the 2009 election riots, have condemned the riots.
The reception of the protests in Tehran is a very important signal of how protests will continue & how important they are for a vast group of people in the Iranian mainstream.
After the first three days, no protest of considerable size has developed in Tehran. It became clear that yesterday's misleading & suspicious slogans for regime change have backfired. Today, Tehran, Iran's overpopulated capital saw a small dispersed 300 people crowd in Enqelab square. About 70 students turned up to protest at Tehran University.
This is while because Tehran is home to about 16 million Iranians, when protests erupt, they are usually not quite small. The image below became an iconic scene of the 2009 election riots.
Based on the videos & images of protests in Tehran on the fourth day, a maximum of no more than 500 people have rallied in the recent protests in Tehran. I seriously don’t understand why Western regime change hawks are so optimistic & happy. Unlike the 2009 protests, we can’t see a single frame of video which proves a number higher than 500 people.
Videos of larger protests belong to cities outside of the mega-capital of Tehran, places like Abhar. This map shows to some extent where big rallies, between 500 -1000 have happened.
Based on the dozens of videos & images I’ve seen from opposition sources, protests in cities other than the aforementioned gatherings (with about 500-1000 demonstrators) amass usually between 50 - 300 protesters.
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The point is that while there is no large body of people rioting together in the streets, simultaneous protests/riots of 50-300 people is being orchestrated in about 30 cities, creating a lot of noise & images for "regime change hungry" mainstream analysts.
The recent protests are a peculiar thing. History shows big protests usually happen in Iran when a clear & specific issue lays the basis for a common view of injustice taking place (ex. 2009 protests over perceived election fraud) but this time round, no specific unifying issue/clear objective has been cited.
In other words, the recent protests have never brought up anything relevant to be able to muster enough emotion yet, especially because the calls for regime change & things likes Trump's endorsement alienate Iranians even more. This is why these recent protests might looks more like an exhaustion of dissent thank anything else...
It is important to note that there were at least three different camps in the streets in recent days:
- Anti-government sentiment: against economy & corruption
- Green camp: 2009 election protest nostalgia
- Pro regime change & monarchy camp (face of the riots, marginal yet much noise)
Because of all the different camps, the dynamics are very vague. These protests don't even have a non-official personality as a leader. The protest directions are sent through Telegram application, a crowd shows up but no manifesto & no clear message is declared. The protests finish in riots & then everyone's back home...
What's sure is that many people in the midst of this don't even have the mindsets many Western analysts like to believe. Just seeing all the hype in the mainstream about the recent Iran protests made me want to show how as an Iranian following things closely & having seen almost all important vids & images, protests are not quite being understood correctly
Part II: Day 5 Update (January 1st)
Videos & images from today’s protests show protests have increased in size, but not necessarily in the number of cities that witnessed protests compared to previous days.
From videos on social media, it seems that the cities of Karaj, Ahwaz, Kermanshah, Masjid Suleiman, Rasht, Tehran & Izehh witnessed crowds above the 500 mark, between 500 to 2000. That makes it 7 cities with protests above 500.
These numbers are not very important once we realize these protests are sooner or later reaching a climax. What is important however is what these protests actually bring up until that climax is reached.
Tehran saw crowds that some estimated above 100,000 protesters in Tehran’s 2009 Election protests, but to the dismay of Washington, the color revolution failed. So numbers are not the only thing which count. The recent protests are not even doing so well in that. Too soon to judge yet
As long as these protests don’t reach a consensus & a unified vision that can unite major crowds in different cities, dissent may simply exhaust itself out. We still don’t see a unified vision bringing major crowds out yet.
But hey do you know what’s pathetic? Instead of giving the bigger picture, many analysts & journalists are busy re sharing dozens of frantic protest videos, provoking an image of mass uprising without true analysis coming out.
The ruse in that is that it simplistically leaves out many other factors (like the approaching climax & the actual numbers of people taking part) instead to appeal to their audiences.
Part III: Day 6 Update (January 2nd)
While yesterday’s protests had slightly increased in size, with about 7 cities above the 500 protester mark (based on social media videos & images), today I was surprised that videos indicated that barely 2-3 cities might have had crowds actually amassing somewhere in between 500 – 1500 people. Total number of protests seems to have also gone down. Were yesterday’s protests the climax we were talking about? While it is still too soon to be sure, it seems protests have exhausted much sooner than expected.
This decrease in protests & size is to the extent that Iran regime change fans are claiming a total internet traffic ban as the cause of little video evidence of big rallies. I haven’t been able to verify this claim but doubt it since many videos have come out on opposition channels. Why are the crowds smaller in the videos that have made it through? Is the government filtering the videos?!
Yesterday's map has also been published finally published. It clearly shows the protests are in decline just as yesterday's video's suggested. The protests probably passed the climax we were talking about, dying out...
As stated above, with almost no unifying & clear objective declared for the protests, the declining protest rates show that this movement may be indeed dying out fast.
Sayed Mustafa Musavi is Tehran-based a Human Rights and political activist who has been participating in many international events concerning human rights. His expertise include cultural and communication studies. He is renowned for his analysis in concerning recent events in the Middle East and been a participant in academic events in various countries including Iran and Russia.
We talked to Mostafa Afzalzadeh from Tehran about what the current protests in Iran are about and where they are going. Mostafa has been an independent journalist in Iran for 15 years and a documentary filmmaker.
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