Iran alleges foreign hand in anti-government protests: US denies it, but history points to interference in Iranian politics

This week, anti-government protests rocked Iran. As of Tuesday, over 450 people had been arrested, while armed protesters even tried to overrun military bases and police stations. According to State media, security forces repelled the protesters, but the demonstrations are already the largest to strike Iran since the 2009 presidential elections.

Despite President Hassan Rouhani's repeated pleas for calm and assurances that the country would deal with the rioters, protests have continued unabated.

File image of Hassan Rouhani. AP

File image of Hassan Rouhani. AP

Protesters ran through the streets of Tehran, while even in provincial towns and cities, there was civil unrest and heavy police presence. The demonstrations have seen five days of unrest across the country and a death toll of at least 13, including one police officer who was killed on Monday.

Slogans such as "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei" could be heard throughout the protests, The Guardian reported. It also said that such chants and acts of resistance are unprecedented in a country where the Supreme Leader holds ultimate authority and criticising him is taboo.

The protests are fuelled by disappointment that the lifting of sanctions on Iran in January 2016 failed to deliver an economic boom.

Foreign countries praise protesters

Foreign countries have reacted strongly to the unrest and to Iran's clampdown on the protesters. US president Donald Trump said it was "time for a change", and Iran's people were "hungry for freedom". He also said the US was watching developments in Iran very carefully.

He tweeted:


This prompted Rouhani to hit back at Washington and say Trump has no right to support Iran's people, who had once called "terrorists".

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson also said the UK is "watching closely" the events and developments taking place in Iran. "We believe that there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising and we look to the Iranian authorities to permit this," Johnson said in a statement on Facebook.

Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the protesters "brave", while denying as "laughable" Tehran's accusations that Israel was behind the demonstrations, according to Reuters. "Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied them for decades. Iran's cruel regime wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate," he said.

Foreign interference in Iran

If, as Rouhani claimed, foreign powers were indeed involved with meddling in Iran's civil unrest and formenting trouble in the West Asian country, it won't be the first time that it has happened. The US actively interfered with the overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, and installing the brutal regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Former president Barack Obama even referenced the CIA-backed coup, acknowledging that in the "middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government", something that the CIA later admitted as well.

Foreign Policy Journal wrote how the Ronald Reagan administration illegally sold arms to the Iranian regime and also supported Saddam Hussein. "And while neoconservatives in Washington had their eye on Iran as a target for regime change throughout the Bill Clinton years, it wasn't until George W Bush came to be president that a strategy for bringing this about began in earnest. Whether the policy of regime change implemented under Bush has been quashed or continued remains to be seen, but what is incontrovertible is that the US has a long and sordid history of interference in Iranian affairs," the article wrote.

Iran has also pointed to the fact that a number of social media hashtags being used in relation to the Iran civil unrest originated from Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), described the protests as Saudi Arabia's "cyberspace proxy war" against the Islamic Republic, Shamkhani insisted, "The hashtags and social media campaigns cornering the situation in Iran are all, in fact, being guided by Saudi Arabia, UK, Israel and US."

Two top-ranking US government officials, Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have openly talked about the need a "peaceful transition" of the Iranian government. Washington is also pondering sanctions against Iranian individuals who are allegedly responsible for "cracking down on Iranian protestors".

In an interview with Voice of America on Monday, deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, Andrew Peek, said the US is planning to build an international coalition to support Iranian citizens' "legitimate rights to express discontent", according to a report in Iranian daily Financial Tribune.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 03, 2018 15:47:34 IST

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