(December 20, 2018 / The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has recently become one of the most vocal critics of the Iranian regime, while Reza Pahlavi, exiled son of the late Shah, has been stepping up his activities in the United States for putting an end to the rule of the ayatollahs. And a considerable percentage of the Iranian people are distancing themselves from the government.
With all of this going on, the leaders in Tehran not only feel that the threats to overthrow their government are become more tangible than they have ever been, but are actually referring to this possibility openly. The various factions within the regime are in total agreement that the government is facing a new, unprecedented situation.
On Dec. 12, the supreme leader of the regime, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called upon all government systems to be more alert than ever because, according to him, their enemies are scheming to turn the coming year into the year of the overthrow of the Iranian regime.
According to Khamenei, these enemies hoped that the summer of 2018 would be a “hot summer” for the Iranian regime. However, he said, now that the summer is behind them and the Iranian Islamic Republic draws closer to February 2019, when it enters its 40th year, all the signs and facts show that the enemies have postponed the deadline for the fulfillment of their schemes against Iran to the coming year, therefore making it a critical year.1
In an address to the Iranian Parliament on Dec. 18, Mahmoud Alavi, minister of intelligence in Hassan Rouhani’s government, stated that the regime is facing a new, unprecedented situation, as not only enemy countries but also the intelligence services of the countries bordering Iran have rolled up their sleeves and are working directly against the Iranian regime.
Alavi expressed his surprise that even the neighboring countries that are the most friendly towards Iran have been working recently against the country and are supporting “terror groups” as much as they can, sending these groups money and assistance with military training and acquiring weapons.
The intelligence minister also admitted that the regime feels threatened by the Iranian opposition, which is growing more powerful around the world. According to him, during the past year alone, Iranian opposition groups held 64 conferences worldwide for the purpose of joining together and overcoming the internal differences among them.2, 3
The son of the Shah raises his profile
Prince Reza Pahlavi, aged 57, son of the late Shah of Iran, has been one of the leading political activists over the past 40 years against the regime that ended his father’s rule in Iran. Recently, he has not only increased his activities in the United States, but he has even attracted unprecedented attention from the American press. His young followers around the world have created a new group named Farashgard, with the purpose of becoming more united around him.
The activities of the pro-Western prince, who is a graduate of top U.S. academic institutions and is fluent in French and English, as well as Farsi, his native language, have increased around the first anniversary of the outbreak of the riots during which hundreds of thousands of young Iranians, in more than 100 cities throughout Iran, shouted slogans in support of the prince, his father Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and his grandfather Reza Shah. The mummified body of the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, Reza Shah, was discovered at around the same time as the riots, openly causing panic among the leaders of the Islamic regime. They hid the mummy again in a concealed location to prevent the site from becoming a holy place for the growing number of Reza Pahlavi’s supporters among Iranian youth, who are repudiating the rule of the ayatollahs en masse.
An article that appeared on the American website Politico on December 12, 2018, dealt with the growing popularity of Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi among millions of Iranians, and especially the young. It added that heavy pressure from the U.S. administration on the Iranian regime, which is causing a clear weakening of the ayatollahs’ rule, is strengthening the position of the son of the Shah even more within public opinion both inside and outside Iran.4 According to Politico, last year President Trump even considered issuing a greeting for the Persian New Year at the home of Crown Prince Pahlavi in the United States, but in the end the White House decided not to do it. The White House and the prince’s office did not react to this part of the article on Politico.
In a speech to an American audience that included senior journalists at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on December 14, 2018, Reza Pahlavi called upon the West to confiscate property belonging to the Iranian regime around the world so that Iranian democratic opposition forces could use the funds to strengthen resistance within Iran. At the same time, this money could be used to financially support thousands of Iranian workers currently on strike in Iran.5
Prince Reza Pahlavi’s latest appearance aroused particularly harsh reactions from the Iranian regime, which fears for its future and is even attempting, via supporters of the regime abroad, to negate the Crown Prince’s statements. At the same time, the American and international press have given extensive coverage to this event,6and many Iranians, both inside Iran and abroad, have expressed renewed sympathy and support for the son of the Shah.
Former President Ahmadinejad returns as a regime critic
One of the causes of the outbreak of the riots that engulfed Iran in December 2017 and January 2018 was the harsh criticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former president of the Islamic regime, of all of the government’s systems. Even the arrest and heavy sentencing by the courts against many of his supporters and aides over the past two years not only did not silence him, but recently raised the level of his public criticism of government leaders and the regime’s various agencies.7
Ahmadinejad ignored the threats of senior officials in the legal establishment who warned him that he could also be arrested and judged, and he has increased his activities in recent weeks. He is warmly welcomed by thousands of Iranians in every city, town, and village that he visits in Iran, either randomly or by design. Many citizens of the country who feel oppressed by the economic pressures of recent times, especially since the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, congregate around him, show their support for him on their cars and balconies, and encourage him to sharply criticize the government.8
The former president recently called upon President Rouhani to resign and “go home” before his inefficiency damaged Iran even more. Ahmadinejad even expressed unprecedented criticism of the two brothers, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani and Ali Larijani, one of whom is the head of the justice system and the other has been the speaker of the Iranian legislature for years.9
According to Ahmadinejad, the leaders of the regime have become the most hated individuals among the Iranian people—to the extent that in recent times, none of them would dare appear in a public place. The former president, who speaks simply and has acquired renewed sympathy, specifically refers to the worsening economic situation in Iran and stresses that the Iranian people are starving while the regime is crushing the honor of the country’s citizens, and all of this happened when Iran was one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
However, it is not only Ahmadinejad or Prince Reza Pahlavi who are expressing their certainty that the end of the regime is approaching. The strongest supporters of the regime are also concerned that the Iranian people already display their feelings of hatred toward the leaders of the regime in public. Mohsen Qhara’ati, a senior religious figure who has supported the leaders of the regime for nearly 40 years, recently stated that the government needs to accept the fact that the nation has changed and no longer supports it.
U.S. sanctions begin to bite
All of this has occurred while President Rouhani is finding it difficult to present a budget proposal for the coming year, and for the first time, the supreme leaders of the regime have interfered with the composition of the budget. Ayatollah Khamenei has called upon the government to tighten its belt over the coming year as a result of the country’s harsh economic situation, which has been exacerbated by the restoration of U.S. sanctions.
Thousands of Iranian workers who are personally experiencing the worsening economic situation held many demonstrations during November and December 2018.10 Most of these took place in the oil-producing province of Khuzestan, where the workers rioted because they did not receive any wages for many months.11 The government was forced to pay a small part of the outstanding salaries in the hope that this would bring the ongoing riots to an end, but dozens more workers have since been arrested.
In a video posted on Dec. 18,on Iran’s social-media networks, security forces in the southern port city of Kish approached the main square in order to arrest a worker who was demonstrating on his own to show solidarity with the workers in Khuzestan. However, this incident soon turned into a citizens’ protest against the security forces, during which the slogan, “Long live the king” (Pahlavi) was clearly visible on the statue of liberty in the square.12
Mohammed Bagher Nobakht, vice president under President Rouhani and director of the planning and budgeting bureau, revealed in response to the increasing riots that the country’s income had gone down by a third since the sanctions were renewed. He even added that the regime was compelled to seriously reduce the budget to the security forces, though his statements were removed from government news agency websites several hours later. Nonetheless, senior members of Parliament have confirmed that in the budget for the new year, the government will have to shave at least 10 percent off the expenditures for the army, Revolutionary Guard, and other security forces.
Iran has confirmed that as a result of renewed U.S. sanctions, not only has the production of oil decreased by at least one million barrels a day, but there has also been a serious reduction in the export of its oil. In November 2018, Iran exported only 870,000 barrels a day, reflecting a fall of more than 50 percent compared with the previous year.
In December 2018, the Iranian auto industry confirmed that the number of new vehicles manufactured plummeted by 57.4 percent as compared with the previous year. Furthermore, Iran’s automotive spare parts industry announced at the same time that since the activation of U.S. sanctions, it has had to let go of 37 percent of its employees, totaling tens of thousands of workers, due to the many difficulties faced by its factories around the country. The Iranian press emphasized that another 400,000 workers in the automotive spare parts and vehicle manufacturing industries in Iran may lose their jobs in the near future.13
Iranian citizens completed 2018 with unprecedented inflation. Senior Iranian officials have confirmed that at least 20 percent of Iranians from the middle class have now fallen below the poverty line within the past year. Vice-President Akbar Torkan stated that the middle class has lost at least 50 percent of its income in that time.14 Not only have housing prices risen by at least 90 percent over the past year, but the prices of basic food products have gone up in recent months by 60 percent. However, according to the forecasts of Iran’s economists and economic experts around the world who are watching Iran’s economic data closely, the year 2019 will herald even more difficulties for the Iranian people and present yet more hardships for the Islamic regime.
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