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Revolution in Iran: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei increasingly isolated

Alí Jamenei

For more than 65 days and despite an unprecedented repression, the Iranian revolution has continued. The anger and determination of the youth against the rulers and for the change of the regime are reaching new heights of intensity. And each tragedy reinforces the popular determination to do away with the authoritarian clerical model. 

When a ten-year-old boy was killed by the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, it was his mother who pointed the finger of blame at the regime during the funeral. The mullahs denied the facts and accused a demonstrator of the irreparable act, but nothing helped. The leaders have lied too often, too long, too systematically, to retain any credibility in front of an angry crowd

And when twenty people are killed in Balochistan on Friday 11 November (now called 'Bloody Friday'), thousands of determined Iranians join the ranks of the protesters the following Friday. 

Each government exaction fuels the anger and determination of the population and swells the revolutionary ranks. 

After 40 years, the Grand Bazaar in Tehran and markets in other provinces have gone on strike, a sure sign that the revolution is gaining ground. Even though the main owners of the Tehran bazaar were considered to be part of the government, they are now joining the protest movement, only a month and a half after Ali Khamenei's speech demanding that his country's notables take a clear stance against the ongoing protests. When the expected positions were not taken, in anger and confusion, President Ebrahim Raissi castigated and mocked these notables who "did not do their duty". So, if they were undecided, here they are in turn taking sides for change. 

It is clear that the efforts deployed behind the scenes by Khamenei over the past month and a half to draw the regime's notables behind him have failed. These notables are afraid of tying their fate to the dark fate of the Supreme Leader. They do not want to bet on a horse that is already dead. 

Who are the notables in question? Not those of the faction of "reformers", Rohani, Zarif and consort, insulted by the people and who would prove a poor support for a failing regime, as confirmed by the newspaper Etemad on 25 November: "Now the demonstrators are insulting all the reformers from top to bottom, and they are clearly saying: '"You are all quiet!... Let us overthrow the government".  

Notables no longer want to bet on a dead horse 

These notables on whom Ali Khamenei hoped to rely are people of great influence. Among these men are Ali Larijani, former president of the Iranian parliament until May 2020 and dismissed from the race in the last presidential election; Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Council of National Security; Ali Akbar Velayati, current Minister of Foreign Affairs and many others considered to be unwavering supporters of the Islamic revolution.  

Unfortunately for Khamenei, these men remained silent. Others, such as Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, current president of the Majlis (Islamic Consultative Assembly, the one that appoints the next Supreme Guide) have directly revealed their disagreements with Ali Khamenei by evoking "the need to change the mode of governance" in the interest of the regime's perpetuation. The state-run newspaper Hamadli notes that "the title of the report of the country's internal affairs and councils committee (in parliament under Qalibaf's chairmanship) is on popularising the governance plan." A few days before the report was published, another member of parliament, Elias Naderan, had spoken clearly about "the need to change the country's political system." 

Turnabout in a hurry 

Over the past 10 days, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has sent his most trusted servants to the holy city of Qom, including Ebrahim Raissi, the minister of education, and some senior IRGC officials. Their mission was to intervene in favour of the actions carried out by the government during public speeches. It was a failure on all counts, since the various speakers on the podium partially agreed with the people in front of the emissaries of the Supreme Guide. Makarem Shirazi, one of the senior clerics in Qom, said that 'in these recent cases, part of the problems are due to some bad decisions '. Nouri Hamdeni, a Shiite authority, had already paved the way by admitting a few days earlier that "people [were] faced with the high cost and difficulty of living." 

Javadi Ameli, another major clerical authority, had directly challenged the religious authorities: "The authorities should wake up and prevent indifference, embezzlement, treachery, astrology and gangs so that the country is not threatened. 

It is now clear that before any effective action can be taken against the uprising, Khamenei must first close the loopholes in his system as head of government. Otherwise, each of his actions will be at best a failure, at worst counterproductive for his regime...

Hamid Enayat is an Iranian analyst based in Europe. A human rights activist and opponent of his country's regime, he writes on Iranian and regional issues and in favour of secularism and fundamental freedoms.

Article published in Entreprendre.