The recent anti-government protests in Iran hardly amounted to a revolution, but they were certainly not instances of “conspiracy” or “sedition,” as the mullahs tried to label them; nor were they merely economic, as former Obama-administration officials insisted. Rather, writes Amir Taheri, they were an expression of fundamental political discontent with the regime itself:
[O]ne remarkable feature of the protests was that, for the first time in Iranian contemporary history, there was no religious undertone in any of the slogans and speeches made by protest leaders. What we witnessed in Iran was a political movement with political aims . . .
Many Iranians, including some within the regime, implicitly agree that the mullahs took over a fairly prosperous country four decades ago and turned it into a poorhouse where up to five million suffer from chronic hunger and a further 25 million are housed in slums unfit for human habitation. And . . . they know that the nation’s economic woes are a result of the regime’s reckless policies at home and abroad. Thus, what we witnessed was a national political revolt against the status quo. . . .
The revolt . . . cut across class, regional, ethnic, and religious divides. In some places, for example Isfahan, the richest local families were marching alongside the poorest of the city with middle-class and lower-middle-class people also joining in. In Arak, an industrial city, workers and their employers marched shoulder to shoulder to indicate they were fed up with the Khomeinist system. The revolt also bridged the generation gap, bringing together people of all ages. . . . [It] also cut across the gender gap by bringing together almost as many women as men. In many places, even smaller towns, women assumed leadership. . . .
[The revolt] didn’t offer a clear alternative [to the present system] but helped clear the air by puncturing the Khomeinist regime’s claim of invincibility. Even a year ago few would admit that the Khomeinist system was overthrowable. Now many, including some of the regime’s lobbyists abroad, publicly do so. . . . The national revolt was about the change that may be delayed but won’t be denied.