Published on : 01/14/2018
By : Arista Asmawati
Young Iranians have been organizing and demonstrating for a nonviolent transition of power. Economics are part of it, but what are their other grievances?
Several days of street demonstrations ostensibly protesting Iran’s economic failures is, in fact, one element of a well-planned campaign for a nonviolent regime change. Dr. Iman Foroutan, chairman of the board and executive director of The New Iran, anchored communication through which the The Media Line was able to interact directly with Iranian demonstrators.
Speaking through the Telegram messaging service despite the government’s attempts to silence it and other social media platforms, Shahriar (not his real name), who is one of the two coordinators of the underground team that one week ago kicked off the first of the demonstrations in Mashad – Iran’s second most populous city – told The Media Line they are tired of the corruption.
To illustrate the point, they cited the lack of any discernible economic impact – which was promised as a result of the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 (United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany) – trickling down to the populace. This, even after the sensational delivery via airborne pallets of billions of dollars in cash by the administration of former US president Barack Obama.
Dr. Reza Taghizadeh, a former professor of international relations at Glasgow University, explained to The Media Line that the economy will not improve while the middle class – the backbone of any healthy economy – is being destroyed. He said, “More than 60% of Iran’s total economy is controlled by elements that don’t pay taxes and are not being supervised.”
Arguably the nation’s most nefarious institution, the Revolutionary Guard, appears in most instances of repression, violence and denial of human rights. Even regarding the economy, Taghizadeh reports that “$20 billion of the total annual foreign trade is illegal and managed by smuggling controlled by members of the Revolutionary Guard.”
Experts like Taghizadeh agree that the so-called “foreign commitments” [read: its proxy wars and support for terrorism] cannot be supported by the economy, which is at its weakest point. He notes, too, that while Obama believed he could trigger changes in the Islamic Republic by releasing Iranian funds that were frozen in the US, upon release, rather than improving the country’s ailing economy, “the money that returned to circulation was spent in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, advancing proxy wars in the region.”
The largest street demonstrations since 2009 came to a halt when the Revolutionary Guard closed in on the protesters, killing 21 and arresting more than 450.
Defiantly, Shahriar declared, “We will continue fighting as always and will continue with our graffiti… and try to encourage the rest of our countrymen and women to join the protests.” For Shahriar and his comrades, the good news is that it seems that many people working for the government are now joining those already marching in the streets, including new groups that are still not prepared to flaunt its participation.
A grassroots effort typified by its sophisticated coordination and communication has been set in motion by anti-regime groups outside Iran that have established cells within the country. Like a modern machine tooled for this purpose, secret and secure, its spokesman and underground coordinator outside Iran is an Iranian expatriate who once held a high-ranking position in the government and has lived in exile for five years in what organizers hope will ultimately result in a peaceful transition of power.
As a result of his stature among his former colleagues within the security apparatus, he receives information concerning government actions before they occur.
This is the first interview being given by the man known as “Behrouz,” who spoke with The Media Line and Foroutan.
The Media Line: “Why were you imprisoned?”
Behrouz: I would not co-operate with the government to import drugs inside Iran and was tortured in many ways: a broken jaw, nails in my ears, and because of the injuries I was transferred to a hospital in Iran and chained to a bed. One day I gave my ATM bank card to the guard to go get money and this gave me the ability to get a friend to rescue me from the hospital. I paid a lot of money to get my family and me out of Iran. Five years ago, I spent 12 days traveling by foot in the mountains in the cold in order to flee Iran.How have you maintained contact inside Iran?
I left Iran five years ago but have maintained continuous contact inside the country. From the early years, my contacts and I realized that the opposition groups are made up of the older generation, with the exception of a very few, such as The New Iran, understanding the needs of the younger generation and how to fight the regime, which has all the guns, through nonviolence and civil disobedience. After that realization throughout Iran, I have been able to find and coordinate with less than one dozen groups that understand how to fight with nonviolence. Most of these groups have spokesmen outside Iran.Why are the youth rebelling?
The youth of Iran are truly not understood by the majority outside the opposition. They lack jobs and many are without food under this regime.
[The team coordinator chimes in by text through Telegram, the social media platform, saying], “This generation of young people in the last decade grew tired of being watched by the regime and told what to do or not to do, and [began] taking destiny into their own hands.”How far-reaching is the opposition effort?
We have teams inside a large number of cities inside Iran, with each team numbering between 50 and sometimes 500 members, each with its own coordinator. Each city’s team has a spokesperson and team coordinators do not know each other for security reasons. There are about 130 groups and the recent demonstrations reached more than 50 cities.
It seems that demonstrations we are witnessing today are part of a larger picture. What is the plan?
During the past few years these teams have received training on three major fronts: (1) public relations – meaning teams are continuing with graffiti on the walls, on flyers and on monetary bills; (2) conducting research on the corrupt government officials – compiling a watch list; and (3) planning street demonstrations. We joined The New Iran’s Silent Majority Project, mainly aimed at the men and women who did not want to take to the streets. It was implemented a few months ago, suggesting that everyone turn off their lights every Friday night at 10 p.m. as an “SOS signal” of distress asking for help and expressing dissatisfaction with the Islamic regime. [Ed. – campaign is now nightly.]
FOROUTAN HAS been a prominent proponent for freedom for Iranians and a regime change based on non-violence. He told The Media Line that he got to know Behrouz several months ago because of his Silent Majority Project, and has personally vetted him.
The group, a non-profit established in 2010, has had daily and weekly satellite television programs broadcasting into Iran. Today, due to a lack of funding, The New Iran airs live programs on Facebook.
Dr. Amir Fassihi founded the Iranian Renaissance Association, a movement that describes its goal as re-teaching and reclaiming Iranian culture. Several years ago they began the National Heritage event marking the October Anniversary of Cyrus the Great. Two months ago, the Iranian government blocked the roads in Pasargadae where the tomb of Cyrus is located for fear of larger demonstrations than previous years.
Foroutan says that preparation for the demonstrations we are witnessing today are an outcome of preparing Iranian youth to infiltrate the workers strike, making it an anti-government event. This was also the case with the demonstrations in front of branches of the Caspian Bank, which went bankrupt, leaving Iranians without their life’s savings.
Also coordinating with Behrouz from France is Reza Mehrabani, the director of the Iranian Renaissance Association, who told The Media Line that since 2014 they have been working on the Iranian Heritage concept as set forth in Fassihi’s book, The Iranian Nowruz Revolution.Should the United States get involved?
Behrouz: The overall ultimate goals are to change the regime through a transparent and non-fraudulent referendum, for people to decide whether they want the regime.
However, we are aware that the Islamic Republic is a brutal regime, so it is therefore extremely important for other countries such as the United States to try and prevent the regime from killing us.
The US needs to give us continued moral support the way US President [Donald] Trump and the administration have been doing recently, and other support, including fast and unfiltered Internet access.Are women involved?
More than half of the team leaders are women and all use male names because of the brainwashing by the regime regarding women’s status.
What is the reaction of the Iranian people to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook posts?
On Netanyahu, yes, we have received messages from Mr. Netanyahu that we translate into Farsi and distribute to all our teams and all our people. Most recently, we did the same with messages from France and Britain following President Trump.
We appreciate all the support we can get and have no problem with Netanyahu or the Jewish state. We believe in equal rights for all people in all countries.
Iran’s fingerprints are on every hotspot in the Middle East. What will stop them?
Under the cover of diplomatic positions, the regime sends military and intelligence officers to these countries and instigates everything we see. China and Russia do not want the well-being of the Iranian people.The Iranian government has blocked social media platforms. The Voice of America continues to broadcast. Is it information you can count on?
We are not satisfied with VOA and Radio Farda. The talk and interviews are with those who want improvement of the regime and not its removal. If we could have a satellite channel ourselves, we could make miracles.
Dr. Foroutan is preparing to host a live television program for his Iranian Facebook audience.
Last question: Who do you see as the next leader?
“The only name people call is Reza Pahlavi,” said Foroutan, referring to the exiled prince of Iran. “On the other hand, from all available evidence, Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mujaheden of Iran is disliked by the majority because her organization collaborated with Saddam Hussein against Iran during the Iraq-Iran war.”