Meir Javedanfar

44 years after the revolution the Iranian regime hits rock bottom

Participants in the annual rally commemorating Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution carry a huge Iranian flag and posters of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, Feb. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Participants in the annual rally commemorating Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution carry a huge Iranian flag and posters of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, Feb. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, antisemitism, and Holocaust denial, celebrated the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution last month. This year, perhaps more than any other since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian regime is discredited and unpopular at home, with its legitimacy at an all-time low.

The regime’s poor standing worries the ruling elite, including its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With the anniversary celebrations coming soon after the four-month-long uprising in the country started to die down, Khamenei chose “the flag of unity” as the theme for this year’s celebrations. Three days prior to the anniversary, in a meeting with senior commanders of Iran’s air force, Khamenei stated:

“The 22nd of the month of Bahman [the anniversary of the revolution in the Persian calendar] will, with the grace of God, be the manifestation of the presence of the people [of Iran], and of their glory. It will be the manifestation of their trust in one another, which is an expression of public unity. I recommend to our dear people to make the public marches on the anniversary of the revolution a manifestation of national unity.”

Iran’s increasingly unpopular president, Ebrahim Raisi, also repeated the supreme leader’s calls for unity to be the main theme of this year’s anniversary, going so far as to dubiously claim that all the ethnic and religious groups in Iran have contributed to the defense of the regime and had a share in its honor “by presenting martyrs.”

Regime propaganda tried to portray this year’s anniversary celebrations as popular and jovial. However, many Iranians, both inside and outside of Iran, could see through the façade of the regime’s unity claims. The pro-regime crowds and the chants at the anniversary celebrations looked and sounded duller than perhaps ever.

This was despite regime efforts to portray itself as strong against its imagined enemies, namely the United States and Israel. At the start of the ten-day celebrations, an op-ed, published in the hardline Keyhan newspaper, stated: “For 44 years, the network of the enemies of the revolution carried out evil acts, but today, our nation and our revolution is a strong tree, while the United States and the Zionist regime are facing collapse.” In reality, using the United States and Israel as bogeymen, a tactic long used by the regime to distract the people of Iran from the government’s dismal failures, has proven ineffective.

Extremist rhetoric

Historically, Iran has not had a shortage of disputes. Following the revolution, instead of relying on diplomacy and dialogue, the Iranian regime adopted extremist rhetoric and state sponsorship of terrorism as its foreign policy strategy, making it an international pariah. Today, the Islamic Republic is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Houthis. These militant groups are responsible for the death and injury of thousands of civilians in the Middle East and beyond.

The Iranian regime has also supported those who are against peace in the Middle East. Khalid al-Islambouli, who planned and participated in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, had a street named after him in Tehran. Furthermore, until 2011, the Islamic Republic hosted Egyptian members of the jihadist group to which Sadat’s assassins belonged, including Islambouli’s nephew.

The same terror organizations supported by the Islamic Republic have also taken part in terrorist attacks targeting American citizens, both directly and indirectly. The regime’s support for extremist ideologies has also reached American soil, with the August 12, 2022 stabbing of British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie by an extremist inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa to kill Rushdie. The attack came as Rushdie was about to speak at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Ironically, Rushdie was scheduled to speak about “the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers.”

The attack, which left Rushdie blind in one eye, shocked the entire international community but not the Islamic Republic. A regime-linked foundation rewarded the assailant with the grant of agricultural land, and Hojjatolislam Muhammad Ismail Zarai, the head of a foundation created to enforce Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie, praised Rushdie’s attacker, saying: “We sincerely thank the brave act of the American young man who carried out the historic ruling of the late Imam [Khomeini]. He made Muslims happy by blinding Salman Rushdie and disabling him in one hand.”

The regime has also become a leading Holocaust denier. As early as 1990, Ayatollah Khamenei, was publicly casting doubt on the Holocaust. Then, in February 2006, he denied the Holocaust by calling it an “afsaneh” (myth). Worse still, to date, the regime has held three Holocaust cartoon competitions, in 2006, 2016, and 2021.

In addition to making enemies all around the world, the Iranian regime has turned many Iranians into enemies. Since its earliest days, the regime has mistreated Iran’s vulnerable minorities, including Baha’is, Christians, LGBTQ+ and others. It has also worked to marginalize and suppress the ambitions of women across the country, as epitomized by the death of Mahsa Amini. Her death while in police custody triggered anti-regime protests in Iran and around the world. While corrupt regime officials continue to pillage Iran’s resources with impunity, other Iranian women, such as Mahsa Peyravi, continue to be sentenced to lengthy jail sentences simply for taking off their head scarves and waving them.

As the years passed, the Iranian regime’s anniversary of the revolution has turned into a cause for mourning for most Iranians, including its ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual minorities who remain hostage to the regime’s brutal policies.

As the latest wave of protests has shown, the Iranian people are as vocal and defiant against the regime as they have ever been. The international community must heed their cries for freedom and stand in solidarity with the people of Iran, who only desire to live freely at home and at peace with their neighbors near and far.

About the Author
Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli lecturer, author, and commentator. He has been teaching Iranian politics at Reichman University in Israel since 2012 and is Anti-Defamation League’s Iran consultant.
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