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OPINION

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei Signals Regime Split

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

Has the ongoing insurrection in Iran, now into its seventh month, exposed glaring splits in the theocratic regime? In his Nowruz (Persian New Year) address to the nation, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the elderly and increasingly delusional Supreme Leader, insisted that the main priority of the theocratic regime was to fight inflation. Unveiling his concept of ‘The Year of Curbing Inflation,’ he indirectly acknowledged that his country is bankrupt, but failed to offer any way of resolving the perilous state of the Iranian economy. His mumbled remarks may have disappointed his hard-line followers, who prefer to hear pledges to “wipe Israel off the map” or cries of “death to America,” and have little appetite for economic reforms. But splits and divisions amongst the mullahs are now the trademarks of this failing fascist regime.

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The Iranian economy is in plummeting decline. Spiralling inflation, currently at 43.4 percent, and a collapsing currency, have combined with tough western sanctions to bring the country to a virtual standstill.  Food prices in particular have suffered massive spikes over the past year, including a 125 percent increase for meat, 250 percent for onions, 82 percent for eggs, and 78 percent for rice.The active Iranian workforce is 26 million, of whom at least 10 million were jobless even before the Covid pandemic. Youth unemployment is at a staggering 40 percent. At least 60% of the population are living in poverty, unable to meet their essential daily needs.

Combined with the mullah’s own venal corruption and regional warmongering, it is little wonder that the country with the world’s second largest gas reserves and fourth largest crude oil reserves is now facing economic meltdown. Iran, despite its once rich, civilized and open culture, has become an international pariah, its religious fascist regime condemned for human rights abuse and the export of terror, while its 85 million beleaguered citizens struggle to feed their families.

Now, the nationwide protests which began last September, have spread from the main cities to rural towns and villages, uniting the impoverished working classes with hard-up middle-income earners, whose chants of “death to the dictator” and “death to Khamenei,” clearly signify the burgeoning demand for regime change. Facing the imminent demise of his dictatorship, Khamenei has clearly panicked, even denying in his Nowruz address that Iran was siding with Vladimir Putin in the Ukraine war, calling the claim “an utter lie,” despite the export of thousands of Iranian Kamikaze drones to Russia.

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The Supreme Leader’s message on curbing inflation was echoed by the Iranian President – Ebrahim Raisi – known as the ‘Butcher of Tehran’ for his bloodstained role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. Raisi called for “double and round-the-clock efforts of the government to serve.” He stressed that the slogan for the new year should be “inflation control and growth in production.” The speaker of the Majlis – Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf – in his Nowruz address, called for “a year of unity and solidarity, as well as peace and tranquillity, free from disease, violence, and war.” Coming from a man appointed to the role of Speaker by Khamenei because of his background as a senior commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime’s Gestapo, and for his record of deadly suppression, particularly of protesting students, Qalibaf’s plea for peace and tranquillity has a hollow ring. But evidence of the splits in the hierarchy of the clerical regime are clear to see. Khamenei’s panic at the ongoing insurrection, coupled with the crumbling economy and international condemnation, has led to a purge of IRGC and Basij religious militia officers, who Khamenei clearly blames for the failure to stem the uprising. The Supreme Leader has also arranged for a clandestine clear-out in the diplomatic corps, with the removal of at least 30 ambassadors, who he blames for Iran’s increasing international isolation.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to dupe the West, Khamenei appears to have ordered his IRGC lackeys to back-pedal on their usual aggressive vocabulary and display a more conciliatory tone to the international community, which has condemned the Iranian regime for their savage crackdown on the nationwide protests, that has seen over 750 people killed and led to more than 30,000 arrests. Indeed, Khamenei has now ordered the release of 8,000 of the detained protesters. Such backtracking should be judged against the fact that four young men have already been hanged for taking part in the uprising and more than 100 have been sentenced to death for the spurious offence of moharebeh or ‘waging war against God,’ which carries the mandatory death sentence.

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It is perhaps hardly coincidental that all of these curious activities are taking place at a time when Iran has agreed to a ground-breaking normalization of relations with its former Middle East arch-rival Saudi Arabia, in a deal brokered by Xi Jinping in Beijing. The deal requires Iran to withdraw its troops from Syria, where it has bolstered Bashar al-Assad’s bloody civil war and also requires the ending of Iranian support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Such radical transformations point to a rigorous contraction in the role of the IRGC and its extraterritorial Quds Force in the Middle East, presumably aimed at persuading America and the EU to revive the stalled nuclear talks and lift economic sanctions. Khamenei will also be hoping that offering a less hostile approach to foreign relations may help to disarm the nationwide protests at home.

Western leaders should not allow themselves to be fooled. Khamenei’s posturing as a new international peace-broker has no credibility. Credibility can only be built on trust and Khamenei has demonstrated again and again that he cannot be trusted. It is well known that he used Barack Obama’s deeply flawed nuclear deal as a cover to continue his secret development of a nuclear weapon. As Supreme Leader he has ordered the shoot-to-kill policy that has led to the deaths of thousands of protesters. He has connived with the cover-up of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, mostly supporters of the main democratic opposition movement the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). He has used his embassies as bomb factories and terror cells and sent his diplomats on terrorist missions abroad. Khamenei cannot be trusted and his apparent volte-face in international and domestic relations can be ignored as yet another sham. The only way to restore peace, tranquillity, warmongering and human rights abuse, and an end to the nuclear threat is to support the Iranian people in their demand for regime change.

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Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). Struan is also Chair of the ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

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