Protests in several cities across Iran continued for the third day as demonstrators have become more unruly and violent.
Reports from several cities include fires being set and projectiles hurled at police. At least two people have been shot dead. The Iranian government claims the gunshots were fired by “Sunni extremists” (Saudi Arabia) and other foreign intelligence agencies.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have warned that protesters will face an “iron fist” unless the unrest is stopped.
Iran has imposed “temporary” restrictions on social networks Telegram and Instagram.
The decision was taken “to maintain tranquillity and security of society”, a source told state news agency IRIB.
Telegram CEO Pavel Durov tweeted that the action was taken after his company refused to shut down channels on the messaging app used to organise peaceful protests.
Protesters in the cities of Khoramabad, Zanjan and Ahvaz called for the removal or death of Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is a powerful force with ties to the country’s supreme leader, and is dedicated to preserving the country’s Islamic system.
Brigadier-General Esmail Kowsari told the ISNA news agency: “If people came into the streets over high prices, they should not have chanted those slogans and burned public property and cars.”
Iran’s interior minister has also warned the public that protesters will be held accountable.
“Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and pay the price,” Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli said.
“The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted.”
What should Trump say about the unrest? An op-ed writer in the New York Times offers this advice:
On Friday night and again on Saturday, Mr. Trump sent out tweets calling on the Iranian government to “respect their people’s rights” and warning that “The world is watching!” That’s more than enough. At this stage, we have little idea what these protests are really about or where they will lead. But we can be fairly certain that high-profile public support from the United States government will do more harm than good.
I realize this advice goes against the president’s instincts, given the centrality of Iran to his agenda and his unquenchable desire to claim credit for anything positive that happens on his watch.
Well, Trump voicing support for the demonstrators would certainly do more harm than good — with the government. But what about ordinary people in Iran? What do they think of Trump giving the demonstrators moral support?
Perhaps we should ask others who have been oppressed by an evil regime. Natan Sharansky spent more than a decade in the Soviet gulag due to his advocacy for human rights. He recalled the effect of Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech on him and other prisoners at the time:
“In 1983, I was confined to an eight-by-ten-foot prison cell on the border of Siberia. My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire.’ Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s ‘provocation’ quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth – a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.
“At the time, I never imagined that three years later, I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. When he summoned some of his staff to hear what I had said, I understood that there had been much criticism of Reagan’s decision to cast the struggle between the superpowers as a battle between good and evil. Well, Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.”
Reagan’s words are still remembered today because of his moral clarity in calling evil what it was. As Sharansky notes, the reaction in the U.S. and western press was universally negative. Reagan was called simple minded, dangerous, even crazy for describing the essence of the Soviet Union and its soul-destroying security apparatus.
Liberals are giving the same advice to Trump that they gave to President Obama in 2009: keep your mouth shut. Obama’s silence disheartened the protesters, who were then brutally suppressed.
The “let’s not be beastly to the Iranians” crowd should be the ones to keep quiet.