Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets calling for an end to the Islamic regime that has ruled the country by force for nearly four decades.
What started out last week as protests focussed on economic hardships quickly turned into protests against the regime’s rule and its supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
Among the few images and videos that have come out of Iran, some show women who have removed the Islamic hijab that they have been forced to wear since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
In one such image a young woman can be seen standing on a pillar in a street in Tehran with her head uncovered, waving her hijab on a stick.
Ever since the Islamic Republic was formed in 1979, women have been among the most suppressed. They are not allowed to leave the country without their husband’s permission, and in court, their testimony is worth only half that of a man.
In response to the protests, Iranian authorities have blocked the internet in parts of the country in an attempt to quell the unrest.
The regime has vowed to respond with an “iron fist.”
According to official numbers, 21 people have been killed and 450 arrested. Given the tight control of information by the authorities, the real numbers are believed to be much higher.
Following the failed “Green Revolution” in 2009, which came in response to the contested re-election of Iranian hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, numerous rights abuses have been revealed.
Protesters were killed, and some of those imprisoned were tortured and raped, according to Human Rights Watch.
President Donald Trump has warned the Iranian regime against committing human rights abuses against the protesters.
“The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!” Trump wrote on twitter on Dec. 31.
Unlike the pro-reform demonstrations of 2009, the latest protests appear more spontaneous and don’t seem to be orchestrated by leaders who can be identified and rounded up by the authorities.
Although there are a variety of demands from different classes of society, videos posted on social media suggest young, working class people make up the biggest numbers.
That could be more dangerous for the authorities because they have regarded the less well-off as loyal to the Islamic regime, as opposed to the more middle-class protesters who took to the streets nine years ago.
According to official figures, 90 percent of those arrested were under 25 years old. Many young people are much more interested in jobs and change than in the Islamist idealism and anti-west sentiment that the old guard clings to.
Some demonstrators have shouted “Reza Shah, bless your soul”—a reference to Iran’s ruler from 1925 to 1941, and his Pahlavi dynasty which was overthrown by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic regime’s first leader.
During his speech before the 72nd Assembly of the United Nations in New York in September, Trump said, “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change.”
“The day will come when the people will face a choice, will they continue down the path of poverty, bloodshed and terror. Or will the Iranian people return to the nation’s proud roots as a center of civilization, culture, and wealth, where their people can be happy and prosperous once again,” Trump said in his remarks.
Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have showed their support for the Iranians protesting in the streets.
Pence said in a Tweet that “America will not repeat the shameful mistake of our past when others stood by and ignored the heroic resistance of the Iranian people as they fought against their brutal regime.”
“We must not and we will not let them down,” Pence said.
Pence’s remarks referred to the response of the Obama administration to the Green Revolution in 2009.
Michael Mullen, who served as Obama’s Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff from 2009-2011, said in an interview with ABC News on Dec. 31 that in 2009 the Obama administration “chose to not be as supportive as we could have been then.”
“I hope we can be right now so that Iran can continue to evolve … I think support of them and their people is absolutely the right thing to do.” Mullen said.
In April 2009, the Obama administration had begun laying the groundwork for negotiations with Iran that would eventually result in the controversial Iran nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Plan of Action, in 2015.
Trump announced in October that his administration will re-negotiate key parts of the agreement, so that Iran’s missile development program becomes part of the deal, as well an end to the time limits on key provisions in the deal.
Experts have pointed out that under the current deal, Iran is allowed to install thousands of advanced centrifuges in 2026, putting them within reach of a nuclear weapon within six months at that point.
Iran is officially designated as a state sponsor of terror by the U.S. State Department. It is a key backer of the Hezbollah terror group operating out of Lebanon, and it has also fueled the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
“The Iranian regime spends its people’s wealth on spreading militancy and terror abroad, rather than ensuring prosperity at home. Prices for everyday staples and fuel are rising, while the revolutionary guards spend the nation’s wealth on foreign militant groups and enrich themselves in the process,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Jan. 2.
“America longs for the day when Iranians will take their rightful place alongside the free people of the world,” she said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times