It has been an intense few weeks in the Middle East to start off 2020. At the very beginning of the year, Iranian-backed militias attempted to attack the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. A few days later, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed by a US airstrike on his vehicle heading to the Baghdad airport. US officials stated that they had intelligence that Soleimani was directing further attacks on the United States in the region in the coming times. After mass mourning across Iran for Soleimani, the Iranian military fired missiles at two US bases in Iraq, resulting in no casualties.
These were major events bringing tensions to a height in the fragile region, but a second major tipping point came later that day when Iran shot down a passenger airliner leaving the Tehran airport heading for Ukraine, killing all 176 civilians on board. At first the Iranian government denied shooting down the plane, indicating there were internal mechanical issues. The next day the Iranians denied access to the crash site by investigators from all over the world, including the United States, Canada and Ukraine, and by the end of that very day, photos emerged showing the crash site had been scrapped clean of anything that could be evidence, such as the planes black box.
However, a few days after the crash, the Iranians would admit they shot the plane down “by mistake,” blaming the United States in the process. Nearly half of those on the plane were Iranian citizens, therefore the government admitting it shot down a plane of its own civilians in a trigger happy moment of tension. As a result, thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of angry Iranians have taken to the streets in the past few days to protest the murderous regime that continues to kill its own citizens with dangerous disregard for fact.
Protests against the Iranian government are not new, they have been ongoing for years, with the most recent major events coming with the “Green Movement” in 2009 and 2010 following the Iranian Presidential Election which many decried as rigged in favor of the theocratic regime. Another round of protests came in 2011 and 2012 following other mass protests across the Middle East associated with the Arab Spring. However, each protest has ended in similar fashion, with the regime taking back power by arresting opposition leaders, journalists and protesters while firing upon large crowds with live ammunition. Each time, protesters have been killed by the government for begging for basic human rights.
While the Obama administration led international outcry in support of the protesters and in favor of the regime, critics have claimed that President Obama did not actually show enough support for the protests, and they fizzled out without international support.
However, the protests seem different this time. The crowds are larger in size, more angry with the increase in fuel prices across Iran and the murder of their fellow citizens, and the increased access to social media for protesters, journalists and onlookers across the world alike. Increased attention on Iran due to previous tensions seems to have also strengthened the protests, with President Trump sending several tweets in support of the protesters, one in Farsi, and another urging Iran to keep the protests peaceful and that the international community would be watching.
Some have tried to spin the protests as supportive of the Iranian regime, but a number of photos and videos clearly see protesters with messages calling for the current regime to step down, and for real democracy to take place in Iran, with phrases like “apologize and resign” flying around.
A number of Iranian activists and journalists including Masih Alinejad and Yashar Ali describing the protests as extremely significant, with Alinejad calling them the most significant since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and Ali describing Iran as a “tinderbox.” Ali also emphasizes that the most important thing the international community can do is call out the specific human rights abuses that the Iranian government continues to perpetrate, ranging from the arrest of opposition leaders, to the shutting down of the internet to prevent information from spreading, to the murder of innocents.
Without a doubt, it is extremely important for the international community to follow these protests and support the Iranian people. Just a few days ago, phrases like “World War III” were trending on Twitter with Americans fearing the death of Soleimani would cause a massive conflict. Protests like this show that despite the evil actions of Soleimani and the Ayatollah, the Iranian people don’t want conflict either. The best hope at peace with Iran is a change in government that works for the people of their nation and the removal of the Ayatollah, the clerics, the Guardian Council and the most extreme military commanders who frequently export their evil across the globe.
The Iranian government has already shown a disregard for the international community and that they fear what these protests could result in with the arrest of the British Ambassador in Iran for simply taking photos of the protests. It is up to the international community to keep spreading the word of these protests, and highlighting the atrocities of the regime to give the citizens who are putting their lives on the line the biggest voice they can have.
Governments around the world should also be prepared to place new sanctions on the government to put pressure on the regime. The United States has continued to do so, but its allies in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine especially should join immediately.
Make no mistake, if you believed World War III to be imminent just a few days ago, these protests are just as important, and should be treated as such because at the end of the day it could mean the difference between a peaceful Iran or a war hungry Iran.
For more on protests in the Middle East, check out my new book “America 2020: The Grand American Political Landscape” available today on Amazon!