The Iranian regime is facing several critical problems. First of all, its response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been severely bungled. Now, in another extremely irresponsible move, it has signaled a preference for eschewing foreign-made vaccines in favor of an unproven domestic jab that was recently rushed into production.
There are also a number of factors unrelated to COVID-19 that are going to prevent Iran returning to normal. In fact, any semblance of normality had already evaporated long before the coronavirus was even discovered. For Tehran, the arrival of the pandemic may have even been a lifeline, since it temporarily distracted its citizens’ attention from the ruined economy and multiple other social and political crises, all of which fueled massive anti-regime protests.
By all accounts, the unmitigated spread of COVID-19 interfered with nationwide activist exploits, which had been accelerating. Had it not been for the virus, there would almost certainly have been more uprisings like those seen in January 2018 and November 2019, and even the month before Iranian COVID-19 infections were confirmed in February 2020.
Even during the pandemic and amid public health concerns, multiple local protests have taken place, with people objecting to anything from water shortages to delayed wages. In the post-pandemic era, the Iranian people will have even more incentive to rise up against the regime than they had in 2019.
All the issues associated with previous uprisings — economic disaster, Tehran’s pillaging of national funds to pay for foreign terrorism and to pursue nuclear weapons, and outrage over a lack of accountability in the face of the regime’s crimes — have worsened. Added to the mix is outrage over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which opposition sources say has so far claimed the lives of close to 200,000 people and has caused enormous economic pain for the people.
Iranians are seeking accountability over the regime’s wrongdoing, mismanagement and crimes. During the protests of November 2019, an estimated 1,500 people were killed in a matter of days because they asked for regime change. The international community was largely silent.
In 2021, the US will come under new presidential leadership and opportunities will likely arise to change overall Western policies in a way that exerts more pressure on the theocracy in Iran. These are among the other factors that could make a return to normality almost impossible for Iran.
There are further signs of trouble for Tehran. On Jan. 22, a Belgian court will hand down a verdict in the case of Assadollah Assadi, a high-ranking Iranian diplomat accused of being involved in a plot to blow up a gathering of tens of thousands of Iranian dissidents near Paris in June 2018. Assadi, who is the first active Iranian diplomat to be formally charged with a terrorist offense, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Another trial will begin in Sweden this year that involves a former interrogator and torturer at Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran. The defendant, Hamid Noury, is accused of facilitating and even personally carrying out executions at Gohardasht. He was allegedly involved in the massacre of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, during which at least 30,000 dissidents were executed and secretly buried in mass graves. Survivors of that purge and the families of its victims — the overwhelming majority of whom were members or sympathizers of Iran’s principal opposition — have been pursuing justice for more than three decades, but Noury is the first alleged perpetrator to face the prospect of justice.
For survivors and for pro-democracy dissidents, these two court cases offer a rare glimmer of hope that the international community is finally starting to hold the regime accountable for its crimes against humanity. Unlike the people in almost every other nation worldwide, Iranians’ hope for 2021 is that things do not return to normal, because normality means international tolerance for the regime’s human rights abuses and terrorism.
That is in stark contrast to what the Iranian people have struggled for over the past 40 years: Holding the regime accountable and replacing it with a democratic, secular, non-nuclear republic. The Assadi and Nouri cases ought to inspire the new White House and its European allies to coordinate on a broader strategy to hold Tehran’s murderers accountable. If this happens, the people of Iran will be more motivated for an uprising than ever before.
Iranian citizens have made every effort to take back control of their country from the theocrats, and they have made remarkable progress. Now, policymakers in Europe and the US should be asked how much more those people might have been able to accomplish in the presence of meaningful foreign support for their democratic cause. This could be the year in which that question is finally answered. (Courtesy Arab News)