Tue May 21, 2024
May 21, 2024

Will the Iranian Mass Protests Stop?

The people’s protests which started on November 15 against the fuel price rise are already the largest ones since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

By Hassan al-Barazili


Iranian authorities themselves recognize the extension of the damages:

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli estimated as many as 200,000 people took part in the demonstrations, higher than previous claims. He said demonstrators damaged more than 50 police stations, as well as 34 ambulances, 731 banks and 70 gas stations in the country”.[1]

What they do not recognize is neither the number of protesters killed, injured or arrested nor the massacres in at least two cities: Mahshahr in Khuzestan province and Shahriar near Teheran.

“The worst violence documented so far happened in the city of Mahshahr and its suburbs, with a population of 120,000 people in Iran’s southwest Khuzestan Province — a region with an ethnic Arab majority that has a long history of unrest and opposition to the central government. Mahshahr is adjacent to the nation’s largest industrial petrochemical complex and serves as a gateway to Bandar Imam, a major port.

In many places, security forces responded by opening fire on unarmed protesters, largely unemployed or low-income young men between the ages of 19 and 26, according to witness accounts and videos. In the southwest city of Mahshahr alone, witnesses and medical personnel said, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members surrounded, shot and killed 40 to 100 demonstrators — mostly unarmed young men — in a marsh where they had sought refuge.

For three days, according to these residents, protesters had successfully gained control of most of Mahshahr and its suburbs, blocking the main road to the city and the adjacent industrial petrochemical complex. Iran’s interior minister confirmed that the protesters had gotten control over Mahshahr and its roads in a televised interview last week, but the Iranian government did not respond to specific questions in recent days about the mass killings in the city”.[2]


Amnesty International addresses the massacre in Shahriar:

“The number of people believed to have been killed during demonstrations in Iran that broke out on 15 November has risen to at least 208, said Amnesty International, based on credible reports received by the organization. The real figure is likely to be higher. Dozens of the deaths have been recorded in Shahriar city in Tehran province – one of the cities with the highest death tolls”. [3]


Iranian activist Frieda Afary posted in her Facebook page on December 3 that:

according to activists on the ground, throughout the country, over 800 people were killed by the regime during the mass protests that began on November 15”.


According to Associated Press:

“One Iranian lawmaker said he thought that over 7,000 people had been arrested.”[4]


The large extension of the protests, its working-class and people’s social composition, and the brutal crackdown recalls the 1979 Iranian revolution.

“The revolution saw millions on the street, something not seen in these recent protests. However, these demonstrations turned violent in the span of a day, showing the danger looming ahead for Iran’s government as it likely faces further hard choices ahead as sanctions look unlikely to be lifted as it has begun breaking centrifuges, enrichment and stockpile limitations in the nuclear deal.

“These riots are not the last ones and it definitely will happen in the future,” Revolutionary Guard acting commander Gen. Ali Fadavi has warned.”[5]


Dissident Mir Hossein Mousavi also recalled the 1979 revolution:

““It shows people’s frustration with the country’s situation. It has a complete resemblance to the brutal killing of people on the bloody date Sept. 8, 1978,” Mousavi said, according to the statement published by the Kaleme website long associated with him. “The assassins of the year of 1978 were representatives of a non-religious regime, but the agents and shooters in November 2019 were representatives of a religious government.”[6]


Contrary to what happened in the 1979 revolution and the 2009 “green revolution” the death figures were concentrated in few days.

During the 2009 wave of protests dubbed “Green Revolution” 72 protesters were killed along ten months.

The 1979 revolution saw 2,781 killed along 15 months:

“The Martyrs Foundation later commissioned – but did not publish – a study of those killed in the course of the whole revolutionary movement, beginning in June 1963. According to these figures, 2,781 demonstrators were killed in the fourteen months from October 1977 to February 1979. Most of the victims were in the capital – especially in the southern working-class districts of Tehran”[7]


Whither Iran?


Definitely it is difficult to predict whether the mass protests will turn into a full-scale revolution that can bring down the Velayat e-Faqih regime and pave the way for workers’ power and a socialist Iran based on democratic workers’ councils.

Some of the hindrances for the regime to remain in power are strong: the looming world recession, the brutal U.S. economic sanctions and the ongoing revolutions across the world mainly in Iraq and Lebanon where Iranian regime prestige is at stake.

On the other side, the regime benefits from the absence of national workers’ and people’s organizations like labor federations or people’s councils. These organizations might unite the protests in the streets to workers’ strikes like in the 1979 revolution, build self-defense to fight back the brutal repression becoming democratic centers for the exploited and the oppressed.

Another critical absence is the revolutionary party. There are activists in and outside Iran who have the potential to build such a organization which is critical for any moment, be it to publicize the conditions of the working classes and to build solidarity with protests and political prisoners, be it for moments of revolutionary crisis when it is necessary to prevent the revolution from being kidnapped or betrayed.

Anyway, what calls the attention is that the sudden and ruthless repression shows that the regime knows that the “business as usual” period is over and workers’ and people’s protests have come to stay.

[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/iran-cia-links-arrested-inciting-deadly-protests-191127170333511.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/01/world/middleeast/iran-protests-deaths.html

[3] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/12/iran-death-toll-from-bloody-crackdown-on-protests-rises-to-208/

[4] https://apnews.com/7a4dec6db2ab451bbb6c6cab4b524a79

[5] https://apnews.com/7a4dec6db2ab451bbb6c6cab4b524a79

[6] https://apnews.com/38c1c25858e34cd6b38c2e093158f88f

[7] Abrahamian, Ervand, The History of Modern Iran, 2nd edition, 2018, Cambridge University Press, pages 165-166

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