President Donald Trump expressed support for “the great Iranian people” on Monday morning as reports confirmed that 12 people have been killed in the Iranian uprising so far.
Trump’s public affirmation followed that of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley who declared Sunday that the United States stands behind the Iranian people and that she prayed “freedom and human rights will carry the day.”
“In the New Year, our hopes and prayers are with the millions of people who are suffering terribly from oppressive governments in North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and especially in Iran, where the long-repressed Iranian people are now finding their voice,” Haley said in her statement.
“The Iranian government is being tested by its own citizens. We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day,” she added.
Trump voiced his support for the Iranian people in a tweet that also criticized President Barack Obama’s “terrible” nuclear deal with Tehran:
What a year it’s been, and we’re just getting started. Together, we are MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Happy New Year!! pic.twitter.com/qsMNyN1UJG
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2017
“We support the right of the Iranian people to express themselves peacefully. Their voices deserve to be heard.We encourage all parties to protect this fundamental right to peaceful expression and to avoid any actions that contribute to censorship,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Sunday.
“In the events of last night, unfortunately, a total of about 10 people were killed in several cities,” Iranian state television reported on Monday, as transcribed by Reuters. The official total was revised upward to 12 dead later on Monday morning.
Of course, reliable information is difficult to come by from “news” outlets controlled by the oppressive Iranian regime. Reuters quotes several officials who suggested it might have been the protesters who fired at police, or that some of the deaths were attributable to looting.
Rand Corporation senior policy analyst Alireza Nader cited unconfirmed reports on Sunday evening that protesters have “taken over government offices in the city of Iran and is fighting security forces.”
“Hard to tell, but there seems to be significant fighting all over Iran,” Nader added, alluding to the difficulty of obtaining reliable information from inside the Islamic Republic.
“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned, possibly foreshadowing a more severe crackdown.
Rouhani declared that Iran is a “free nation” and conceded that “according to the constitution and citizen rights, the people are free to express their criticism and even their protests.” However, he stressed that “criticism should not be accompanied by violence or vandalizing public property.”
Rouhani also fired back at President Trump in his remarks: “This man in America who is sympathizing today with our people has forgotten that he called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago. This man who is against the Iranian nation to his core has no right to sympathize with Iranians,”
In an early move to break up the protest movement, Rouhani’s government shut downmobile Internet access across much of the country and blocked social media sites popular with the protesters, including Telegram and Instagram. The founder of the encrypted Telegram communications platform, Pavel Durov, said the Iranian government first asked him to shut down channels used by the protest movement, and then blocked access to the entire Telegram service when he refused.
In another move that some suspect is intended to defuse the protests, the government shut down schools and offices in Tehran and other cities, supposedly due to “air pollution” alerts. (If this is just a pretext for shutting down schools until the protests simmer down, it’s a fairly plausible one; schools in Tehran have been shut down for smog alerts before, most recently in mid-December.)
The Reuters report reflects the confused status of Western media, which spent much of the weekend in a curious dedicated effort to downplay the scale of the Iranian uprising, culminating in CNN’s bizarre determination to cover pro-government demonstrations.
Mainstream media coverage gradually shifted over the weekend to concede that a major protest movement is sweeping Iran, but they are still reluctant to admit the protesters want the Obama-supported administration of allegedly “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani gone, as well as the “hardline” theocracy led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Somehow the chants of “Death to Rouhani!” have escaped many Western cameras and microphones.
Reuters, for example, summarizes the protests as follows: “Some called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and chanted against a government they described as thieves. Demonstrators say they are angry over corruption and economic hardship in a country where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.”
Much emphasis is now being placed upon the economic hardships faced by the Iranian people and their complaints about corruption, but the degree to which they are rebelling against Islamic theocracy and the ayatollahs is astonishing.
For example, demonstrators in Khorramabad chanted, “We are Iranians, we don’t accept Arabs!” That’s a slam against the mullahs – they’re saying Islamic theocracy is a system imported from the Arabs and imposed on what used to be the Persian Empire. Another way to translate this slogan is, “We are Aryans! We don’t worship the Arab God!” (Lisa Daftari of Foreign Desk News suggests this could also be interpreted as criticism that the Iranian government is spending so much money on interfering with the politics of Arab nations.)
The demonstrators in Khorramabad went on to make it clear they are not wild about the secular administration in Tehran, either, by setting fire to a government headquarters building.
The most striking aspect of the Iranian uprising is the absolute and total rebuke of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. The protesters are specifically complaining that their government used the windfall from Obama’s nuclear deal to finance war and terrorism abroad instead of improving the lives of the Iranian people.
Lisa Daftari again: “The irony in all of this is that the Iranians are basically saying they can no longer look the other way when it comes to the regime’s terror funding the way Obama and Kerry did.”
The big question for New Year’s Day is what, if anything, the U.S. government can do to assist the Iranian uprising. Our influence with them is probably limited. The Iranian people may have turned against their corrupt terrorist-sponsoring theocracy, but they haven’t necessarily fallen in love with the United States. For what it’s worth, they do seem to be having deep second thoughts about overthrowing the U.S.-supported shah in 1979, and that isn’t just an insult the protesters dreamed up on the spur of the moment to infuriate the ayatollahs. Nostalgia for the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi has been buildingover the past year.
Hudson Institute President Kenneth Weinstein has an excellent suggestion: “As protesters in Iran chant ‘we live like paupers as they live like princes,’ the U.S. government should release details on the billions in stolen assets held personally by regime and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials and the Supreme Leader.”