Iran's people seek democracy and freedom from tyranny

More than a month ago, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei predicted that the nation's domestic protests would be "wrapped up" and finished soon.

Every day, however, Iran's men, women, and children are going into their nation's streets to express their rejection of the Islamic regime, which has ruled by force since it helped oust the Shah in 1979.

They speak out even though the regime has killed more than 750 protesters in recent days, arrested at least 30,000, and is now formally executing those in its custody.

What is happening in Iran?  "Riots," as Khamenei and his mullahs call it?  Or "revolution," as the Iranian people in the streets call it?

Many people see signs of impending upheaval: Iran has a miserable economy, with high inflation rates, rampant unemployment, and widespread hunger.  Its government agencies are riddled with corruption.  The mullahs have a long history of torture and murder of dissidents, and Iran's list of atrocities includes lethal discrimination against women and girls — 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was taken into custody by Iran's "morality" police because her headscarf was out of place.

In other words, Iran is now "an explosive society," says Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the nation's main pro-democracy movement.

Mahsa Amini's brutal death in September sparked the protests that swept the nation thereafter.  The people's slogans call for the absolute end of Iran's dictatorship.  The new rallying cry, "Death to the oppressor, be it the Shah or the Leader," means "We reject all tyrants and dictators and seek democracy."

The Iranian regime is constantly labeling the "riots" as "ended."

Perhaps Iran's leaders are nostalgically recalling previous times, when the people took to the streets to protest the crashing economy but eventually receded back to their lives.

This time, the protests are more widespread — in all of Iran's 31 provinces — and encompass Iran's women, schoolgirls, students, professionals, laborers, and merchants.

The regime has sent its forces out to quash the protests, but despite death and mayhem, the protests continue.  What is the morale of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) when they are ordered to fire on children?  What kind of infighting is going on behind regime doors?

We know there is internal demoralization in the regime.

In November, Khamenei seemed to be speaking out loud about the existential threat posed by the regime's longtime opponents, the NCRI and the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).  "The enemy tries to force authorities, not just youth, to lose hope," the supreme leader said, presumably referring to PMOI/MEK as the enemy.

"Unfortunately, the enemy has a network inside the country and tries to spread the message of despair on social media," Khamenei admitted in a November 19 address.

Khamenei and his peers know the PMOI/MEK all too well, having persecuted them for decades, including a mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.

However, eight years ago, the MEK took steps to form "resistance units" around Iran.  These small groups of dissidents harass, irritate, and disrupt the regime in endless ways, defacing posters, writing slogans — especially "Death to the Dictator" — on public surfaces, and even briefly invading state media to show images of the woman they view as Iran's post-mullah, transitional president, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.

Importantly, the Western world is also aware of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its leader.

For years, the NCRI and Mrs. Rajavi have been hosting massive conferences to showcase the need for regime change in Iran.  Hundreds of Western and Middle East leaders have voiced their support for that change, citing Iran's history of terrorist attacks, persecution of minorities, nuclear ambitions, and human rights abuses.

The NCRI alternative for Iran is a democratic government with free and fair elections, plus a 10-point plan that enshrines such things as universal voting rights; freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, press and the internet; separation of religion and state; gender equality (rights for women in attire, marriage, education, and employment); equal protection for minorities; overhaul of the tyranny of police, courts, and prisons; and a ban on nuclear weapons.

The NCRI conferences have won friends and allies around the world, but now it's time for them to do more than cheer, say observers like Professor Ivan Sascha Sheehan, executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.

"Although 750 protesters have been killed and over 30,000 arrested, the Iranian people are fearlessly defying the repression visited on them and fighting back against well-armed repressive forces," Prof. Sheehan recently wrote.  "The longevity and resilience of the protest movement has prompted growing numbers of observers, including French President Emmanuel Macron, to recognize the uprising for what it is: a new revolution."

Observers like Prof. Sheehan are urging Western leaders to not only prepare for the day when the ayatollahs will be toppled, but even find ways to facilitate it.

Sanctions on Iran and key leaders are one avenue of support.  Supporting the Iranian protesters' rights to self-defense and resistance is another.  Designation of terrorist entity to IRGC by European countries is another.

"The Iranian people are doing their part for democracy.  Now it's time for world leaders to do theirs," says Prof. Sheehan.

Saeed Abed is a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Foreign Affairs Committee, a human rights activist, and an expert on Iran and the Middle East.

Image: National Council of Resistance of Iran, by permission.

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