In the latest episode of FeniksPod’s Atlantic Series, Director of Middle East Studies at Marine Corps University Dr. Amin Tarzi said that the protests in Iran “had their roots in the 2017-2018 uprisings that were fueled by a lack of clean water, oil shortages, and general economic concerns.” In contrast to previous protests, he argues, this time “the Iranian people absolutely reject the very foundations of the Islamic Republic.” The state mandated dress code is a fundamental element of the regime, and thus, Tarzi contends that the protests are targeting the heart of the government rather than its actions.
Tarzi went on to point out that the protesters are mainly young people who were born after the Islamic Revolution, thus the protesters are “the new Iran” not old Iran” before the revolution. Tarzi highlights that the protesters were not only calling for the downfall of Supreme Leader Khamanei but also Ayatollah Khomeini, “who is regarded as a saint in Iran as the founder of the regime.” He goes on to note that the “women without headscarves on the streets” are a direct challenge to the regime.
Tarzi emphasizes that “the regime is attempting to portray this as some sort of ethnic uprising [of non-Persians].” Nonetheless, this spin hasn’t stopped people from joining the protests.
According to Tarzi, “the regime hasn’t yet used all means of force against the protesters.” For him, the power center within the regime that makes decisions regarding the protests will be crucial for their outcome. He adds that Ayatollah Khamenei has been ill for some time and that after Kassem Soleimani was killed by a US drone strike there is no natural successor to succeed him as the leader of the regime. While names have been floated including current President Ebrahim Raisi and the supreme leader’s son Mojtaba Khamanei, neither has “the gravitas, religious credentials, or popular support to rule.”
When it comes to US attempts to revitalize the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, Tarzi argues that “the Iranian regime does not want a successful conclusion of the talks.” For him, Iran was signaling its disinterest even before the protests.Tehran is currently further from an agreement because “keeping Iran as a pariah state helps to propagate the idea of the regime as being under siege.” This line of propaganda is essential for the regime to portray protesters as unpatriotic. Moreover, a renewed JCPOA would yield fruits in the long term but do little to bring immediate solutions to the current protests. Tarzi argues that the other parties to the deal are becoming less likely to accept Iranian demands, noting, “do we even think that the EU-3 and the US would sit at the negotiating table with Iran under the current conditions as Tehran assaults its people.”