The mullahs’ theocratic fascist regime offers only repression, cruelty, injustice, torture, corruption, and the export of terror. That they do so in the name of Islam is an outrage and disgrace. This year Iranians will be praying that Nowruz will bring the blossoming of a new and better future for Iran and an end to decades of suffering under the tyrannical dictatorship of the mullahs and before that, the savage despotism of the Shah.
As the nationwide uprising continues into its seventh month, since the killing in custody last September of the young Kurdish girl Mahsa Amini by the ‘morality police’, more than 750 protesters have been killed and over 30,000 have been arrested. Courageous resistance units of the People’s Mojahedin of Iraq, Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), the main democratic opposition movement, have burgeoned in towns and cities across the nation, coordinating the insurrection, which is steadily moving towards a full-blown revolution. Unlike previous mass protests which were triggered by economic concerns and anger at fraudulent elections, this time the crowds are demanding regime change. “Death to the Supreme leader” and “death to the mullahs” are the regular chants of the protesters.
Crippling western sanctions, and decades of economic mismanagement, have plunged the Islamic republic into a severe crisis. Iran’s currency, the rial, recently dropped to a record low, wiping out people’s life savings and making even some basic goods unaffordable. The rial is now valued at 600,000 to the US dollar, down from 32,000 to the dollar when Barack Obama’s flawed nuclear agreement was signed in 2015. It would take almost a barrow-load of rials to purchase a loaf of bread. Iranian officials accept that inflation has spiralled to between 40 and 50 per cent, although some economists believe the real rate is much higher. Nuts, candy, and other staples for the Nowruz holiday will have been unaffordable for many.
The mullahs were hoping for western sanctions to be lifted in exchange for their renewed compliance with the nuclear deal. But their brutal crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations, the execution of young protesters and the egregious supply of weaponized drones to Vladimir Putin for his illegal war in Ukraine have widened ruptures with the West and scuppered any chance of a revival. In frustration, the mullahs have dismantled surveillance cameras erected by the International Atomic Energy Authority to monitor their nuclear sites and they claim to have enriched uranium to 83.7 per cent purity, a short step away from the 90 per cent required to make a nuclear bomb. In any case, there is mounting evidence that the theocratic regime used the cover of the nuclear deal as a ruse to camouflage their race to develop a nuclear weapon from the outset.
The regime’s officials have blamed Donald Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions for their economic woes, but sanctions are not solely to blame. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the mullahs’ Gestapo, control over 70 per cent of the economy, pay no taxes and are answerable only to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 that brought the mullahs to power, the IRGC has systematically squeezed out the private sector, hindering economic growth. Their venal corruption has seen senior IRGC officials living in luxury, many with opulent villas in Turkey and other countries in the Middle East, while ordinary Iranians starve. But their dependence on oil revenues has been reduced to a trickle by sanctions, curtailing their ability to finance Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Shi’ia militias in Iraq.
The IRGC’s raison d'être is exclusively summed up in domestic suppression and interference in the affairs of other countries with the aim of expanding the Iranian regime's malign influence. Meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, particularly exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, has for years been a strategic pillar for Tehran’s survival. The IRGC’s warmongering expansionism in the Middle East led to its listing as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US. However, although senior figures attached to the IRGC have been sanctioned by the EU and UK, there has been ongoing resistance to blacklisting the entire outfit.
For far too long Iran and the IRGC have taken advantage of the West’s appeasement policy, not only engulfing the entire Middle East in flames, but also oppressing the Iranian people through atrocious and repeated human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Blacklisting the IRGC in Europe is long overdue and will be a first and necessary step in actually curbing Iranian atrocities.
Indeed, the issuing of an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, by the International Criminal Court, has created an interesting precedent. If the court can issue an arrest warrant for a serving head of state for war crimes and violations of human rights, then they could take similar action against Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, the so-called ‘Butcher of Tehran’, both of whom have blood-soaked histories. Khamenei and Raisi’s regime condones torture and arbitrary imprisonment, discriminates against women, and encourages public floggings, eye-gouging, amputations and hanging as a means of terrorising its own population into docile submission. They must be held to account for their crimes.
It is surely clear that the West’s policy of continuous engagement with the Iranian regime, while for years closing its eyes to human rights violations and the accelerated sponsorship of terrorism, is a policy that has failed. Indeed, it simply emboldened the mullahs to further oppression at home and terrorism abroad. There can be no hope of reform within this theocratic dictatorship. As 85 million Iranians know, the only solution for Iran and also for peace and stability in the region, is regime change in Tehran. Let us hope that this Nowruz will be the last one under the fascist tyranny of the mullahs.
Struan Stevenson, a former member of the European Parliament, is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change and chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and his latest book is entitled Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran – A Contemporary History