Momentum for rebellion against the Islamic Republican Government in Iran may be stifled by Qassem Suleimani’s death. Suleimani was the commander of the Quds Force, a faction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran. He is considered a hero by many Iranian and a symbol of an oppressive state by others. Iranians idolized him in the way that Americans looked up to World War II generals like George Patton, and Brits admired the Duke of Wellington.
There have been songs of revolt in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election sparked weeks of protest known as the Green Movement. Iranians’ grievances and dissent toward the Islamic Republic have been simmering but when President Hassan Rouhani announced a sudden 50% increase in gasoline prices in November the anger of citizens could no longer be suppressed.
Iran’s crumbling economy stunted by high unemployment and rising prices on food and medicine led to increased frustrations which eventually boiled over when Rouhani announced the fuel price increase in early November. However, according to subsidy payment hand out released by the Islamic Republic, the price increase would help provide additional government assistance for 60 million eligible Iranians, including many in rural areas, as well as teachers, labourers, public employees, aid workers, social workers and female heads of households.
Protests erupted in cities and towns across the nation. Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets. Soon after, security forces began killing hundreds of protesters and detaining thousands of others.
According to the New York-based nonprofit Center for Human Rights in Iran, at least 304 people, including 12 children, were killed during the unrest. The group also said that up to 7,000 protesters were arrested. The U.N. has called on Iran to release all individuals detained but to no avail. The U.N. said in a statement in December that it heard reports that some of those who had been detained were physically abused. Videos circulating on social media also indicate violent suppression of peaceful protesters.
Since Suleimani’s death, Iran’s retaliatory ballistic missile strikes on two bases used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq shifted the attention of many Iranians from rage against its leaders to renewed patriotism. Many Iranian have stopped railing against the government and started supporting it to stop a war. Citizens fear a wider war with the U.S. In 1988, the United States launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iran, claiming that it was retaliation for the Iranian mining of areas of the Persian Gulf as part of the Iran–Iraq War. The American attack was the largest American naval combat operation since World War II. These are still fresh in the minds of Iranians.
The Islamic Republic in Iran had been accused of years of corruption and neglect. Rajabian, a 30-year-old Iranian musician who has been jailed twice in the notorious Evin Prison, once in 2013 and then 2015 told Los Angeles Times Reporter, “every single day, as soon we open our eyes, we face a dark and vague future before us. We only struggle to survive. Life means nothing to us. We only pass the time with an empty stomach and an exhausted body.”
But while the Islamic Republic may have presented a unified front over Suleimani’s death, anger at the Islamic Republic may not have been at forefront of people’s minds, but remains potent.
However, the death of Suleimani seems to have inadvertently played into the hands of the Iranian leadership by taking pressure off the government to fix widespread economic and social problems. All attention seems to have shifted to patriotism, and momentum for rebellion stifled.