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Iranian Protesters Shout ‘Death to Khamenei’

Iranian Protesters Shout ‘Death to Khamenei’
A population at a breaking point.
By Hugh Fitzgerald

In Iran, the Islamic Republic has mired the country in misery. Iranian rulers would rather sacrifice their people’s economic well-being to their mad pursuit of nuclear weapons. Tens of billions of dollars have gone into the nuclear program, money that was not available to spend on food and medicine subsidies, on housing, on education and medical care. Furthermore, the continued nuclear program has led to the imposition of Western sanctions that have greatly reduced Iran’s exports of oil and natural gas. In 2019 there were widespread protests against the regime, suppressed with great violence.

Now protests are spreading again. They were prompted by the collapse on May 23 of a ten-story building in Abadan, which was widely seen as the result of corruption in the government, with well-connected builders getting away with lax safety standards. The protests have now spread from Abadan in Iran’s south to cities in central Iran, and the protesters have expanded their cries against corruption to include the most dangerous demand: “Death to Khomeini.” A report on the growing protests is here: “Protesters chant ‘death to Khamenei’ over Iranian building collapse,” Reuters, May 31, 2022:

Protesters in several cities in Iran chanted anti-government slogans overnight, including “death to Khamenei,” over a deadly building collapse in the southwest of the country, videos posted on social media showed.

Officials said the death toll had risen to 34 on Tuesday, with another 37 injured in the May 23 collapse of the 10-story residential and commercial building in Abadan in the oil-producing region of Khuzestan. Rescue workers continued to search for victims under the rubble, they said.

Authorities are blaming the collapse of the Metropol Building on individual corruption and lax safety and say 13 people have so far been arrested for construction violations.

Iranian protesters, however, blame it on government negligence and endemic corruption.

Shouts of “death to Khamenei,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are heard on an unverified video shared on Twitter, which gives the location as the south Tehran district of Nazi-abad.

So these latest protests have already reached Tehran, and shouts of “Death to Khamenei” – so worrisome fro the regime — have been heard. It’s unclear how the Iranian government will be able to contain this growing protest. It has announced the arrest of 13 people connected to the collapsed building in Abadan for “construction violations.” But that attempt to limit the responsibility for the collapse to a handful of locals, and to make it appear that the national government is properly concerned and rectifying what it claims to be a discrete incident, has done nothing to mollify the protesters. They blame the regime itself, and the corruption to be found not only in Abadan, but all over the country. The protesters insist that the whole political system is rotten.

Anti-Khamenei slogans are considered a red line for the Islamic Republic.

Another unverified video shows riot police roaming on motorcycles in the same area, apparently to disrupt or intimidate protesters.

So far the attempts by the police to frighten the protesters have not worked, but have only served to madden the crowds.

In the southern port city of Bushehr, protesters are heard shouting “Death to the dictator,” also a reference to Khamenei.

That is a common slogan during anti-government protests in Iran.

Videos of protests in other Iranian cities are also posted on social media.

Iranian police have used tear gas and fired shots in the air to disperse crowds and have clashed with demonstrators during the week-long protests.

Now those protests are two weeks long. The clashes between police and protestors have done little to stop the protests. They have only spread, from Abadan to the rest of Khuzestan Province, to central Iran, and even to Tehran. The government knows that if it kills any of the protestors, this will inexorably lead to a swelling of the protests to a level that will be difficult for the regime to contain. In 2019, the regime was already straining to contain the countrywide protests. Since then the Iranian economy has gotten much worse. More than 60% of the Iranians now live below the poverty level. As a consequence, the widespread popular rage, for now with difficulty held in check, will be hard to contain if the government makes a misstep as, for example, by killing more than a handful of protesters.

The building collapse in Abadan is for the protesters a symbol of all that is wrong in Iran. The corruption is everywhere, beginning with the Supreme Leader himself. After a six-month investigation, Reuters concluded that Ali Khamenei controls a “financial empire” of $95 billion. And many other senior officials, including clerics, have helped themselves to large amounts – in some cases, tens of millions of dollars – of state money. The protesters believe that the builder of the Abadan building paid off municipal officials to allow him to cut corners in the construction which ultimately resulted in the building’s collapse and the deaths of 24 people, with injuries to another 37. And this building is only one of thousands of projects – buildings, roads, bridges, stadiums, bus stations, in which the corruption of local officials, including inspectors, safety experts, licensing boards, may have been involved. Corruption has also helped determine the awarding of state contracts to builders, as well as the turning of a blind eye to shoddy and unsafe construction.

The Abadan building collapse, and the protests triggered by that collapse, took place just ten days after Iran had started to be racked with protests over the sudden removal of government subsidies for basic foodstuffs. In early May, the price of flour rose by 500% as the Government removed subsidies on imported wheat. On Thursday, May 26, the government cut subsidies for cooking oil, chicken, eggs, and milk, prompting price rises of 300%.

Since mid-May, there have been demonstrations over food prices in at least 50 cities and towns across the country. The initial protests in south and southwest Iran were joined by areas such as the town of Quchan in northeast Iran, near the Turkmen border; Rasht in the north; and Hamedan in the west. In Tehran itself, despite a heavy presence of security forces, protests have also been reported around the vast city. The authorities have cut off access to the Internet in places where the protests have been most violent.

And now comes a second wave of protests while the first wave is still continuing, this one over government corruption that helps explain why unsafe structures are being built, and the people of Iran are paying for it with their lives.

In covering the disaster, official Iranian media have mainly shown religious mourning and funeral processions. Speaking on state television, Abadan’s governor has warned people to solely follow official media and eschew “rumors” from social media.

Iranians are already frustrated with high food prices and economic problems at a time when efforts have stalled to achieve a revival of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and, with it, relief from sanctions.

It looks like the Iranian intransigence has finally been too much even for the Bidenite appeasers. The sticking point is Iran’s demand that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps be removed from the list of terrorist organizations. This is something that Biden, with a rare and welcome display of stubbornness, refuses to do. So there may be no return to the 2015 deal, and thus no lifting of the sanctions that have helped to cripple Iran’s economy.

An overnight 500% rise in the price of flour, and a 300% rise in such staples as cooking oil, chicken, eggs, and milk, is crushing Iranian families. Even before the mid-May removal of the subsidies on food, nearly two-thirds of Iranians were living below the poverty line; with those price rises for food, their situation has only worsened. They have nothing to lose by protesting; they are already at the breaking point. Perhaps the government, fearing the spread of the protests, will give in and put back the food subsidies. But there is always the risk that such a capitulation will only confirm protesters in the efficacy of their protests, and encourage them to continue to protest whenever they think a policy should be changed, as they will now have sensed that the government’s weakness, in order to bring about much greater change in Iran’s policies and even, perhaps, as some may now dare to hope, an overturning of the nightmarish regime that has ruled and ruined Iran since 1979.

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