Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The mullahs who rule Iran pursue a policy of velayat-e faqih, or absolute clerical rule, which allows them to justify every horror, every medieval torture, every public execution, every act of terror, as the "will of God."
On Dec. 28, Iran's restless citizens finally signaled that they had had enough. The uprising, which began in the holy city of Mashhad, was initially sparked by protests against spiraling living costs, rising unemployment and increasing poverty. It quickly escalated into an angry confrontation with the government, spreading like wildfire to the capital Tehran and to 142 cities across the country.
Iran is the most repressive country in the Middle East. It executes more people, per capita, than any other country in the world. More than half the population of 80 million is under 30. Around a quarter of young people are jobless. Iran is one of the most pro-Western countries in the Middle East yet it is ruled by a clique of elderly, bearded, deeply corrupt mullahs, who have drained the country's rich oil resources to feather their own lavish lifestyles and to fund their policy of aggressive revolutionary expansionism.
It was rage against this corrupt and repressive theocratic dictatorship that brought the Iranian population onto the streets in the millions over the past five weeks. In this respect, the protests were markedly different from the crisis in 2009. Then, the cause was disillusion and disbelief in the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with a surge of support for the so-called Green movement and its leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, one of the defeated candidates. The Western media, as usual, painted Mousavi as a moderate and a reformer, ignoring the fact that he held the position of prime minister from 1981 to 1989, during which time he oversaw the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988, in one of the worst atrocities since the Second World War, a crime against humanity now being actively investigated by the U.N.
By explicitly targeting the supreme leader and President Hassan Rouhani, the angry, mainly young protesters in the recent uprising were demanding the overthrow of the entire clerical regime. Of course the mullahs reacted to the crisis in their usual, time-honored fashion, sending in the regime's gestapo, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who gunned down dozens in the streets and arrested over 8,000 protesters, 10 of whom have been tortured to death in prison. But the brutal crackdown has only served to deepen public hatred of the regime and to harden resolve for its ultimate overthrow.
I do not see any way in which the current theocratic regime can survive. Millions of Iranians now live in poverty. There is rising inflation and massive unemployment, particularly among the young. Yet Tehran continues to pour billions into propping up Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the brutal Shi'ia militias in Iraq, the ruthless Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Iranian people are no longer prepared to stand aside as the mullahs plunder their national wealth and turn Iran into a pariah state. The latest uprising has revealed the emergence of a courageous new force from within the heart of Iran's long-suffering cities; a new force, prepared to struggle for their rights and to fight for freedom and equality. This new force has, I believe, the capability of overthrowing the fascist mullahs.
Now, in the wake of the recent uprising, the mullahs have set their sights on blaming the main democratic opposition movement, the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI or MEK). In his speech on Jan. 9, Ayatollah Khamenei said: "These incidents had been organized. The PMOI had prepared for this months ago and the PMOI's media outlets had called for it." So the opposition movement, once dubbed by the mullahs as an insignificant grouplet, has suddenly been catapulted into pole position as the main agitator behind the uprising. According to the AFP news agency, Rouhani even telephoned French President Emmanuel Macron on Jan. 3, pleading with him to take action against the Paris-based PMOI and their leader Maryam Rajavi. Macron rejected Rouhani's demand.
The fact that the regime has openly accused the PMOI of playing a leading role in the uprising has exposed their acknowledgement that indeed there is a democratic opposition led by Rajavi; there is an organized resistance and an alternative to the ruling theocracy. And the Iranian people know that they are no longer isolated in their demand for change. In America, both Republicans and Democrats have at long last recognized the Iranian regime as the godfather of terror. It is time the U.K. government and the EU did likewise. As the arrests and violent repression continue, the international community must not remain silent. The United Nations Security Council must adopt punitive measures against the regime. They must hold to account the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were supporters of the PMOI. Many of these murderers are still in positions of power in Iran today.
The international community must demand the release of the thousands of protesters arrested during the recent uprising and issue strong warnings against any torture or execution of these prisoners. They must demand the restoration of full and unhindered access to the Internet for the Iranian public and importantly, they must express solidarity with the Iranian people in their bid for democratic change.
Struan Stevenson is president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association. 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 Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.