For the second day in a row, young Iranians have demonstrated on Sunday against the authorities due to the demolition of the PS752 flight of the Ukraine International Airlines company and the death of all its occupants, mostly citizens of Iran and Canada (although many of these also of Iranian origin). The protests, some of which were repressed by the security forces, open an important gap in the image of national unity that the regime had tried to give in its confrontation with the United States for the murder of General Qasem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guard , the same military body that launched the missile against the wrecked device.
The demonstrations began on Saturday in the form of vigils for the 176 victims, but quickly transformed into a protest against the authorities of the Islamic Republic, who were labeled as “liars” and who were asked to “resign” for hiding for three days the truth. During the first days, Tehran maintained that the plane was precipitated by a technical failure, although the appearance of intelligence information and videos on social networks that demonstrated the demolition hypothesis forced the authorities to admit that, due to an “error human ”, a ground-to-air missile was launched against what was considered an enemy attack instead of a civil flight.
“Keeping the plane's demolition secret was a stupid act. The people who were on that flight represented the Iranian dream; They were brilliant researchers, academics, people of new technologies, who had studied in the best universities in Iran and then emigrated to Canada, ”Kaveh Nematipour, an Iranian exile and analyst, explains to EL PAÍS:“ Those who are now on the streets are university students from middle and upper class who aspire to do the same as those who were on that flight. They feel that the regime has demolished their dream. ”
On Sunday, a school day in Iran, opposition media reported new protests in half a dozen universities in Tehran and other centers in Isfahan, Arak and Damghan. In the videos published on social networks, dozens of people can be seen – hundreds in some cases – gathered and singing slogans like “Down with the dictatorship!”, “Incompetent (Revolutionary Guardians)!” And “People killers ! ” At Beheshti University in Tehran, the students refused to go over the flags of the United States and Israel, permanently painted on the floor to be trampled on. In the late afternoon, the protests extended to Azadi Square (Libertad) in Tehran, where slogans were sung against the Revolutionary Guard and the supreme leader, Ali Jamenei, until the police dispersed the protesters by force.
“The events of the last two months are a manifestation of the ineffectiveness of the Iranian government system. A system whose only response to any crisis is repression ”, denounced the students of the Amirkabir University of Tehran – to which several of the victims belonged -, linking their protest with the social manifestations of last fall for the rise in the price of fuels, which were severely repressed by order of the Revolutionary Guard. Amnesty International estimates that there were more than 300 dead at the time, although Iranian authorities refuse to give data. Amirkabir students also criticized the "imperialism" of the United States in the Middle East, which "has only proliferated chaos," but urged the Government not to use it as an "excuse for internal repression."
On the other hand, the Efe agency reported that about 200 people – supporters of the most rigorous wing of the regime – demonstrated before the United Kingdom Embassy asking for its closure after the British ambassador, Robert Macaire, was briefly detained for participating in the Saturday vigils. On Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned him for explanations and reminded him that his diplomatic status does not allow him to participate in "illegal" acts.
“The environment is emotionally very charged. People are angry because they believe the government has hidden information, ”Abas Aslani, a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies on the Middle East of Tehran, explains to EL PAÍS:“ It is still too early to say if the protests will continue, although I think they will be extinguished a few days, since at the moment they are lower in number and intensity than those of a few months ago. And although they have some impact on the unity that was created during the funeral of Soleimani, that does not change that the majority of Iranian society still considers it a murder against a very popular figure. ”
In fact, the murder of Soleimani unleashed criticism against Donald Trump for adding tension in an area that is already a pure powder magazine. Soleimani had been sanctioned for supporting terrorism since 2007, but the operation was carried out behind Congress and without conclusive evidence of the imminent threat with which Washington justifies the attack. The episode of the wrecked plane, on the other hand, gives air to the Republican Administration by questioning the credibility of Tehran and showing an alarming procedure: the demolition of a commercial flight confused with a hostile aircraft and the subsequent denial of the facts for two days.
Donald Trump took advantage of the conflict that this issue has unleashed in Iranian society itself to signal the regime. “To the leaders of Iran: don't kill their protesters. Thousands of them have already been killed or imprisoned by you and the world looks at you. More importantly: the United States looks at them. Return the Internet and let journalists move freely. Stop killing your wonderful Iranian people! ”He wrote this Sunday morning in his Twitter account. Last night, he also sent a message of support for street protests, highlighting the "courage" of the people and highlighting the support of his Government.
For the Pentagon chief, Mark Esper, the demonstrations show the aspiration of Iranian society "for a better government, a different regime," although Washington has made it clear that this change is not a US policy. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, spoke in a similar line on Twitter: “The voice of the Iranians has been clear. They are fed up with the brutality, lies and ineptitude of the Islamic Republic under Jameini's kleptocracy. ” Even so, Esper valued Tehran's final assumption of responsibility for the plane and gave the explanation of the error as good. "I have a hunch that it was an accident," he said in an interview on the Fox network, adding that the regime "in the end did the right thing by admitting it."
Divisions also affect the bosom of the regime. “There are very critical people within the system, as can be seen on the front pages of Iranian newspapers. Since these newspapers each represent the voice of a different part of the power structure, we can see that they are accusing each other, ”says Hakki Uygur, director of the Ankara Center for Iranian Studies. Although all the newspapers appeared on Sunday asking for forgiveness for what happened, some were especially hard. "Unforgivable," was the head of Iran, The official government newspaper. Ethemad, of the reformist current, entitled to all pages: “Excuse me. They resign ”, a message addressed to the dome of the Revolutionary Guard. Not only is Iranian society divided by its support or opposition with more or less nuances to the Ayatollah regime, but also the State is heavily crossed by factions between and within its ranks: elected power, religious power, the Army regular, the Revolutionary Guard …
Precisely, the head of the guardians, Hosein Salami, appeared in Parliament to explain the "mistake" that led to the downing of the Ukrainian plane. Other leaders of this deeply ideological military body have launched accusations against the Government and the Armed Forces for not paying attention to their request that the day of the US-based missile attack in Iraq – hours before the plane was taken down – closed the airspace to civil flights. While the Government and the supreme leader have assured that they did not know until Friday what had really happened.
Nematipour believes that the protests are not yet closed. Those who died in the incident are not like those killed in the repression of the autumn protests – people of humble extraction and rural areas – but "people with money and well connected." "When they bury their relatives, they will initiate multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the State and they will not be satisfied with the fact that the missile operator is used as a scapegoat, they will want the highest level authorities to assume their responsibility," he says. Iran is not going through its best moment, with an economy in crisis and sunk by the increasing sanctions of the United States.
In the diplomatic section, the Qatari leader, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, arrived in Tehran on his first visit to the country since he came to power in 2013, to meet with President Hasan Rohaní. "We are convinced that the only solution to the crisis (with the United States) is going through distention and dialogue," he said after the interview.
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