Ever since the death of Gen Soleimani, Iran has witnessed a sea of protests. The entire nation mourned the death of Gen Soleimani but in no time the protesters turned against the Iranian regime as the news trickled in that it was indeed Iran who mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian Airlines jet, killing all 176 aboard the ill-fated flight. Caught on the back foot, the Iranian regime even accepted the truth, and extended its apologies in a rare show of bowing down to international pressure.
Iran has been hit with punishing sanctions and its economy has been in free-fall since the past couple of years. The killing of Soleimani and the aftermath has plunged Iran into chaos putting the Iranian regime on the back foot. As the protesters call for the the Supreme Leader’s resignation, this could very well be the beginning of the end of Iran’s Islamic regime.
The way the Iranian regime tried to cover-up its shooting down of a civilian aircraft was shameful which has irked its citizens. For three days, Iranian officials rejected claims of any malfeasance and maintained that the Boeing 737 crashed due to technical reasons as they refused to fall prey to the ‘Western propaganda’. Iran had to finally budge as international pressure and irrefutable ramped up, the nation finally admitted that it mistakenly shot down the flight which carried 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians. What’s heartbreaking is the fact that most of them were students.
A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces:
Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster
Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 11, 2020
Iran didn’t announce its mistake at the time of the crash, perhaps to let the nation mourn the death of Soleimani and not let the focus shift from Iran’s ‘daring’ missile attack on US military bases in Iraq. To add to that, while Iran claims to have killed 80 American ‘terrorists’, US President Donald Trump has stated that there has been no American casualty from Iran’s missile attacks. All these events have added fuel to the fire that was already burning in Iran.
Even before the killing of Soleimani, Iran was witnessing a wave of protests over the country’s state of the economy and these protests were crushed brutally. While the Iranian opposition claims that the unrest which took place in November had resulted in the deaths of 631 people. The reported toll has varied between a Reuters account of 1,500 dead and an Amnesty International figure of more than 300. Both have been dismissed by Iranian authorities.
Hundreds of young and working-class Iranians took to the streets on Nov. 15 to protest against fuel price rises. The protests turned political, with demonstrators burning pictures of senior officials and calling on clerical rulers to step down. Iranian authorities, who have yet to give a death toll, have dismissed Amnesty’s figures and a Reuters report that said 1,500 people were killed in less than two weeks after protests erupted. Tehran said in December that some “rioters” were shot dead by security forces. Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced the unrest as a “very dangerous conspiracy” by Iran’s enemies.
Then came the death of Soleimani, which has virtually amputated one of the current Iranian regime’s most important limbs. He was the nation’s de-facto Foreign Minister and used to handle the less-rosy side of the dealings which included carrying out attacks against the American forces in the Middle East.
General Soleimani headed the external operations Quds Force for the Revolutionary Guards in the past few years had emerged as one of Iran’s most popular figures as he increased the nation’s clout in the Middle East at the expense of the USA. A survey published in 2018 by IranPoll and the University of Maryland found Soleimani had a popularity rating of 83%, beating President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Solemani was killed in Baghdad, Iraq as he was actively involved in forming the new government in Iran’s neighbouring country. He was widely considered an architect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s war against rebels in Syria, the rise of pro-Iranian paramilitaries in Iraq, the fight against the Islamic State group, and many battles beyond. In 2013, former CIA officer John Maguire told The New Yorker that Soleimani was “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East”. Throughout his career, he is believed to have aided Shia Muslim and Kurdish groups in Iraq fighting against former dictator Saddam Hussein as well as other groups in the region including the Shia militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon and Islamist organisation Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
Despite the fact that Iran lost one of its most important leaders, anger in the country has only risen as Iran has failed to retaliate efficiently or corner the US diplomatically. It has become clear that the launch of over a dozen Iranian missiles was just a facade meant for the regime to proclaim that ‘revenge’ has been taken against the USA. Instead, the Iranian regime ended up downing civilian aircraft which had over 80 Iranians on board. This was a massive lapse of judgement from the Iranian authorities and if they were so worried about America hitting back, what stopped them from closing their airspace and shutting down the International airport? Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have many questions to answer and a rare apology will not assuage the concerns of the protestors.
To only make matters worse, more sanctions are expected to follow after the shooting down of the civilian aircraft. Iran has been crippled by the USA led sanctions making business almost impossible in Iran. There are strict restrictions and no bank is allowed to transfer money into Iranian accounts thus making it virtually impossible for any foreign direct investment. The Trump administration announced more sanctions Friday on Iran, marking the latest move in a series of financial U.S. punishments that have left the Iranian economy reeling and its citizens under extreme pressure. The latest U.S. sanctions will target Iran’s metal industries, as well as eight senior military and national security officials. The new penalties came after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian commander in Baghdad last week, which triggered retaliatory Iranian strikes Wednesday on bases housing U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
Thanks to the 2015 Nuclear deal with the US, Iran’s real gross domestic product growth rate stood at -1.3 per cent in 2015, it surged to +13.4 per cent in 2016. Trump has pulled out of the deal which will plummet Iran’s economy. The International Monetary Fund said Iran’s economy would contract 9.5% this year. The number makes 2019 one of the worst years for Iran’s economy since 1984. Only Libya (19% of GDP contraction) and Venezuela (35% of GDP contraction) are expected to perform worse economically in 2019. Due to the sanctions, Iran’s oil exports are dwindling and the cost of basic goods in Iran doubling since 2016. The people of Iran are in no mood to ‘stay strong against the Western pressure’ and are demanding answers from the conservative Iranian regime.
The protests have made it clear that people, especially, the youth, do not want nukes, they want a more liberal and globally respected Iran. Western values have seeped into the nation far more than many Arab nations. The nostalgia of the Shah’s (Ayatollah’s predecessor) liberal and the grand regime is on the rise. This discontent does not necessarily mean that a pro-USA sentiment is rising, but there are more than one reasons to believe that the protesters might strike a regime change.