For Many Iranians, Patriotism Means Protesting

In late January 2020, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) published a news report detailing the actions of some of their operatives in Tehran. Under the cover of darkness, young men threw Molotov cocktails at the headquarters office of a governmental and religious organization that the NCRI believes has been pilfering funds destined to the Iranian people. In other parts of the capital city, NCRI operatives set fire to posters depicting Ayatollah Khamenei and the late Major General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in Iraq by an American drone strike.

It is important to note that the NCRI is an international dissident group that opposes the rule of Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani, and the foreign interventions conducted by the Revolutionary Guards Corps. It is also considered to be a radical group known to agitate and resort to violence, but their sentiment has been shared by many people in Iran over the last few years. Starting in November 2019, thousands of people across Iran have taken to the streets to speak out against the current state of affairs in the Islamic Republic. The rallies started shortly after the regime imposed a drastic increase on fuel prices; the protests started out peacefully, but when clashes against riot control police units became violent, things started to get ugly.

Hundreds of Iranians have died over the last few months while expressing their discontent at the government and the Ayatollah. Similar to what happened in Chile last year, where protests were sparked by an increase in public transportation fares, the good people of Iran have been releasing years of frustrations, and once protesters started dying at the hands of security forces exercising overwhelming force, all bets were off. By the time Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by nervous missile technicians, an incident that killed more than 150 Iranians on January 11, people were even chanting “death to the Ayatollah.”

People in Iran are fed up for many reasons, one of them being the precarious socioeconomic situation exacerbated by the many sanctions spearheaded by the United States. While the NCRI supports some sanctions, particularly those dating back to 2013, the group also believes that the administration of United States President Donald Trump has tightened the screws too much, and this is something that Atlantic Council fellow Amir Handjani has written about. At the same time, the good people of Iran do not feel that their government should be stoking the fires of Middle East discontent and spending money on adventurism in the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts, particularly when unemployment and inflation keep rising to unmanageable levels.

Iranians are known to be resilient people, and they can also be very patriotic, but they also have their limits. Aside from being exasperated by the aforementioned fuel price increases, Iranians are worried about the eroding rights of teachers and railway employees, two workforce segments that are intrinsic to socioeconomic development. In the end, the good people of Iran are looking out for each other; they are concerned about their communities and about the country, and they do not like what they are seeing.