PARIS, FRANCE: Last Saturday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran hosted an online conference designed to commemorate the anniversary of the first major uprising against Iran’s theocratic dictatorship. The incident in question occurred on June 20, 1981, when roughly half a million supporters of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, MEK, took to the streets in Tehran and began marching toward the parliament building in order to demand the sort of democratic governance they had envisioned when supporting the revolution against the Shah’s regime. It was the people’s Iranian Resistance movement.
Unfortunately, the 1981 uprising met with brutal repression that set the stage for four decades of crackdowns on dissent in the Islamic Republic. Hundreds of people were fatally shot by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps during the protests, and thousands of others were killed in the ensuing months after being arrested and put on trial for their peaceful activism.
But viewed through a historical lens, the incident boasts a silver lining in that it comprised an early example of the democratic activist community’s popularity and resilience.
The Iranian Resistance has rebounded from each regime crackdown
Even as its total number of casualties has climbed to six figures. Each year on June 20, the Resistance recognizes the Day of Martyrs and Political Prisoners by once again identifying the approximately 120,000 people who have died at the hands of the theocratic regime, while fighting for the democratic cause.
The victims include participants in 1981 uprising, as well as the MEK members and other political prisoners who were killed in months-long programs of mass executions that took place all across Iran in the summer of 1988.
Other martyrs to the cause were attacked by Iranian operatives on foreign territory, including numerous locations in Europe and North America. Iran became notorious for this sort of terrorism during the 80s and 90s, during which the regime ordered a series of targeted assassinations that came to be known as the “chain murders.” But the danger of similar attacks has never gone away, as was made shockingly clear in the summer of 2018 when European authorities disrupted an Iranian plot to set off explosives at the “Iran Freedom” rally that is organized by the NCRI outside Paris every year.
Like Saturday’s teleconference and the Day of Martyrs and Political Prisoners, the rally represents a recurring opportunity to showcases the mounting pressure being exerted on the clerical regime by Iran’s democratic Resistance movement. The clarity of that message took on new dimensions in 2018, as the event took place in the wake of what was easily the most significant outpouring of dissent against the regime since 2009.
In fact, the uprising of January 2018 was viewed by some as an even more powerful symbol of the regime’s vulnerability, on account of the involvement of various demographic and social groups, in cities and towns spanning the entire country.
These features put the 2018 uprising in the same class as its predecessor from 1981.
The two were further united by the fact that Iranian officials, including none other than the Supreme Leader, identified the uprisings as having been spearheaded by the MEK. This goes a long way toward explaining the regime’s willingness to risk greater international isolation by attempting to carry out a terrorist attack on European soil, with the MEK’s parent coalition as the intended target.
That plot’s failure now stands as a testament to the potential value of collaboration and support between the Iranian Resistance and its natural allies in the Western world. It significantly impeded Tehran’s strategy for suppressing democratic sentiment and consolidating its own hold on power. And this, in turn, helped to inspire another nationwide uprising inside the Islamic Republic, the following year.
In November 2019, Iranian citizens from diverse backgrounds spontaneously poured into the streets once again, this time in response to the announcement of sudden increases in the price of gasoline. As in 2018, expressions of economic discontent quickly morphed into explicit demands for regime change. The slogans from the earlier uprising were repurposed for its sequel, as protesters chanted “death to the dictator” and told both mainstream political factions that “the game is over” and the people will no longer accept a system that doesn’t represent their interests.
Tehran’s ongoing repression of Iranians sparks Iranian Resistance
Unsurprisingly, Tehran’s anxiety over the proximity of the two uprisings led to even more brutal repression of the second. In January 2018, several dozen protesters were killed in shooting incidents or as a result of torture at the hands of the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence. But last November, approximately 1,500 people were shot dead in a matter of days. The long-term human cost of the uprising has yet to be determined, as some activists are still facing potential execution, while others are suffering medical neglect in prison after being wounded in clashes with authorities.
Still, the recent teleconference underscores the fact that this repression hasn’t shaken the activist community’s belief in the prospective triumph of the pro-democracy movement. Participants, including members of the NCRI and supporters from the US, UK, and EU, all endorsed the sentiment that regime change is inevitable. Some identified the regime’s aggressive domestic activities as signs of desperation and carelessness.
Others highlighted the potential for those crackdowns to lead the regime into greater peril once the international community responds with appropriate inquiries regarding human rights conditions in the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s regime’s escalating domestic abuses are easily understood as a response to the failure of its campaign against the expatriate activist community. But its attempted attacks on those expatriates are, in turn, signs of its failure to effectively suppress dissent at home. The regime’s latest foreign schemes were conclusively disrupted, though its domestic crackdowns have taken a substantial toll. Still, history suggests that the Resistance is certain to rebound from those crackdowns, and widespread protests early this year suggest that it already has.
That Iranian Resistance movement’s 40-year resilience puts it on a clear path toward victory over the ruling theocracy. It’s easy to imagine how much more quickly it could move toward that outcome if the international community banded together to stop future crackdowns, in much the same way European law enforcement banded together to stop attacks on Iranians activists living in their jurisdiction.
LEAD IMAGE: Activities of the Resistance Units and supporters of the MEK in various cities- June 19, 2020 – Image courtesy of https://www.ncr-iran.org/