“The white giant bound in chains!”… This is how Bahar, one of Iran’s greatest contemporary poets, describes Mount Damavand, the towering volcano that looms over the Tehran region.
At the end of the poem, Bahar implores the volcano to end his perpetual silence with a thunderous, seismic explosion, spewing fire and lava “to cleanse the world of tyranny and corruption.”
Over the past two weeks, the uprising, which has engulfed much of Iran, has reminded many Iranians of Bahar’s poem, which posed a question: Has the volcano started its last eruption?
Today, Mount Damavand is a new generation of Iranians who are completely indifferent to the vague rhetoric of the Iranian government, and prefer life in the modern world with all its virtues and flaws, in addition to the version of North Korean society that “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei is trying to impose on Iran.
The uprising was triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl, while in police custody after visiting family in Tehran.
Within 24 hours of her death, as a result of being beaten by security agents, Mahsa Amini’s name was known to almost all Iranians, and within two days, she had become a symbol of resistance to tyranny around the world.
Because of the censorship and pressure placed on journalists, including the few remaining foreign correspondents, it is difficult in Iran to gauge the extent of what appears to be a national uprising carrying a strong message at its core: We can’t take it any longer!
At the time of writing this article, we have received the names of 84 people, including 9 women and 6 children, who were killed by the Islamic Security Service, while semi-official figures indicate that the number of arrests exceeded 1,800 citizens.
The uprising spread to more than 300 towns and cities, some of which witnessed protests for the first time in modern history.
However, is this the great bang that the poet Bahar begged for Mount Damavand?
For the past 43 years, since the mullahs seized power in Tehran, the Iranian volcano has been causing many eruptions.
On March 8, 1979, 25 days after Ayatollah Khomeini’s emergence as the new ruler, more than half a million women rallied in Tehran to protest the “veil” imposed on them and other restrictions announced by the mullahs.
Despite brutal repression and mass executions, from 1979 to 1988 Iran witnessed further revolutions, as different layers of the alliance formed under Khomeini began to fade. In those years, Iran also witnessed massacres committed by the forces of the new regime in several regions, especially in Khuzestan, Kurdistan and Turkmen Sahra.
Since then, the Iranian volcano has experienced more than 20 medium or large eruptions, all of which were brutally suppressed.
In its early days, the Khomeini regime set self-preservation as its supreme goal. Khomeini called it “the most obligatory of duties,” stressing that to protect the ruling regime, Islam itself can be set aside.
The mullahs did two things to protect the regime:
First, they allocate a significant portion of GDP to the military security forces. The best estimates indicate that “system protection” accounts for 14 percent of GDP, four times more than education or health allocations. The number of the regime’s protection forces, with the exception of the national army, is more than 600,000 soldiers. The Islamic Security is organized into 9 different units, at least four of which are trained and equipped to quell street protests.
All security units, including the Revolutionary Guards, benefit from several advantages, especially salaries that are 30 percent higher than similar salaries in the Iranian National Army.
It also owns or manages more than 8000 companies across the country, and controls 25 berths in 9 ports from which it can import or export whatever it wants without worrying about customs regulations. The security forces also control many important functions.
In fact, over the past five years, when it comes to filling the big jobs, they’ve been way ahead of the mullahs. They are also given priority access to university places, housing, health care, consumer goods, travel abroad, and scholarships for their children studying in Europe or the United States.
The regime also established a series of entities that depended on its absolute generosity under names such as “the family of martyrs,” “the deprived,” “followers of the imam’s dynasty,” “readers of sacred texts” (praised in Arabic), or “volunteers of martyrdom.”
To this should be added a network of mullahs and religious students who receive stipends and – or occasional “gifts” (known as heavy envelopes) from the “Supreme Guide”.
Another security department is made up of tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates in Europe and North America who commute back and forth, mixing work and luxury, and acting as defenders of the Iranian regime abroad, called “dawwadeen” (the two lives in Arabic).
The extent of the pro-regime base in Iran is still under consideration and speculation.
In the recent presidential elections, the regime’s favorite candidate, Ayatollah Dr. Ibrahim Raisi, won a quarter of the eligible vote. Former President Hassan Rouhani estimated that about 30 percent of Iranians were happy with the regime and provided its support base.
Whatever the size of the regime’s support base, one thing is certain: it is shrinking; During the current uprising, an unexpected number of figures associated with the regime and benefiting from its concepts, including an astonishing number of celebrities and former Islamist officials, have publicly sided with the demonstrators. Poets who wrote phrases of praise for Khomeini or Khamenei, and novelists who tried to justify every mistake the mullahs made, publicly declared their “repentance.”
The latest intifada differs from the previous intifada in a number of ways.
It takes place on a larger scale, bringing together people from all walks of life. This approach is not limited to corporate issues such as improving wages and working conditions. Nor does it focus on specific grievances such as loss of savings, suppression of non-Muslim religious sects, or cultural restrictions. This time around, the call for regime change is almost unanimous.
For this reason, it seems that the ruling establishment is unable to decide how to deal with the uprising. Some within the regime have called for “brutal repression,” while others advocate dialogue and reform of some laws.
As of this writing, Khamenei, who shed tears over the death of “George Floyd” in the United States, has maintained complete silence about the eruption that threatened his regime.
Even if the latest eruption isn’t the big eruption, one thing is certain: Iran’s volcano of anger remains tumultuous and not easily tamed.