by Menashe Amir
Nine years ago, Barack Obama was silent when ordinary Iranians took to the streets – but Trump has chosen to throw the weight of the United States behind the people.
The current protests in Iran began with small groups in country towns – but have quickly spread to 20 cities while morphing into mass demonstrations. Over the weekend they reached the capital Tehran, and are expanding by the hour.
In the summer of 2009, the masses also took to the streets, then to protest fraudulent presidential election results. The rallies were restricted to the capital and were suppressed with extreme brutality. Close to a million people took part in those protests – but they lost steam after focusing on support for a former prime minister, who was part of the oppressive regime himself and whose stated intent was to implement reforms while defending the regime's existence.
This time, the protesters are openly calling for the leader to be removed and for the regime to fall.
These protests are far more serious, for several reasons. This time, it appears, demonstrations will persist and spread to additional cities, becoming an immense movement that poses a clear threat to the regime's survival.
The main reason these demonstrations are different is that now people are fighting for their daily wages and sustenance, against government corruption and ambitious foreign policy.
The protesters' rallying cries now testify to the precariousness of their situation and their fundamental demands. They want to work and they want food in their stomachs. They are unequivocally demanding the cessation of financial support for Hezbollah, Hamas and the tyrannical Syrian regime, while brazenly disparaging President Hassan Rouhani and calling for the regime's demise. They are shouting "Death to the dictator," "Khamenei next," "Leave Syria and take care of the Iranian people," "Let go of Palestine," and "Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I'd give my life only for Iran."
The 2017 economic crisis in Iran is dire. The lifting of Western-imposed sanctions, which should have boosted the country's economy, has failed to do so. Inflation is skyrocketing and unemployment is swelling. Money is losing its value.
The protesters, therefore, are no longer demanding mere governmental reforms; they are hungry for food and have been trampled by the regime and its crimes. They accuse the regime of stealing vast sums of money from the pensions of ordinary Iranians, via financial institutions created by well-connected people.
These protests are a snowball hurtling down a mountain – and the regime does not know how to cope with them yet. At the same time, social media is playing a crucial role in connecting people, and the message is quickly spreading.
U.S. President Donald Trump's declaration of support was an injection of encouragement. Nine years ago, Barack Obama chose to remain silent when Iranians took to the streets – but Trump is choosing a different path by explicitly supporting the people. From this point forward, from the streets, the next great Iranian chapter can begin.
Menashe Amir is an expert on Iranian affairs and former head of the Israel Broadcasting Authority's Persian language division.
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