Revolution Day in Iran: No cause for celebration

39 years after the revolution, there are very few Iranians who find any reason to celebrate its anniversary.
Sunday 18/02/2018
Signs of alarm. Iranian President Hassan Rohani delivers a speech during a rally marking the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, on February 11. (AP)
Signs of alarm. Iranian President Hassan Rohani delivers a speech during a rally marking the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, on February 11. (AP)

February 11 marked the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution, which ended the monarchy and established the Islamic Republic. Every year, the regime in Tehran has celebrated Revolution Day with carefully choreographed “spontaneous” rallies and military parades, endless official speeches and the burning of American and Israeli flags. Other empty ritual is routine as well.

The 39th anniversary of the revolution was no exception but there was also a sense of significant change. Few Iranians act as though there is much cause for celebration.

The Islamic Republic is still recovering from anti-regime protests that swept the country a few months ago. The protests were led by impoverished Iranians, people whose cause the revolutionary regime claims to champion. The revolution promised them social justice but what they receive is poverty and beatings at the hands of the police when they shout out their dissatisfaction in the street. Unsurprisingly, they don’t find the anniversary of the revolution worthy of celebration.

Political activists of the 1979 revolution too are not in celebratory mood. Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, spokesman of former President Mohammad Khatami’s government in the 1990s, tweeted on February 10: “Thirty-nine years ago… at the age of 17, I was an enthusiastic and idealistic high school student awaiting revolutionary change…I hoped I could help create Paradise on Earth. Today, at the age of 56, I hope no youth ever dreams of creating Paradise on Earth!”

Ramezanzadeh was purged and served a prison term after the June 2009 protests stemming from the disputed presidential election. His utopian paradise appears to have become hell. As he indicated, he has little reason to celebrate Revolution Day.

Dissatisfaction with the regime also reached the ranks of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) veterans. Hossein Zaman, who went from senior commander during the Iran-Iraq war to pop singer, is a case in point, using his Telegram channel to criticise the regime.

“Today, the ruling elites of Iran are soaked in embezzlement and plunder,” he said. “Innocent people suffer from poverty and injustice… You are ignorant of tomorrow, a day which all bullies and autocrats of history experienced.”

Within the regime, Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s Revolution Day speech also showed signs of growing alarm. Rohani said: “When the revolution took place, we pushed some [people] off the revolutionary train that we should have not… Today, we have to let them board the train again.”

Rohani was clearly referring to the broad political coalition that forced Iran’s last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, into exile. The coalition included liberals, Communists and others and was purged by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamist aides. The purge outlived Khomeini and keeps Mehdi Karrubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, both presidential candidates in the 2009 election, under house arrest.

Perhaps Rohani’s words were a sign that he fears being purged himself by political opponents. Iran’s president is trying to mobilise the public in support of his cause — a referendum to overhaul the institutions of the state.

If he hoped his speech would produce the results he wanted, Rohani was to be disappointed. His opponents, organised by the IRGC, responded to the president’s speech by chanting “Death to liars, death to the seditious!”

The IRGC perceives Rohani and Iran’s technocratic elites as the last barrier between it and total power. This makes the IRGC all the more eager to attack the president’s inability to solve the country’s economic problems and those of ordinary Iranians.

Indeed, 39 years after the revolution, there are very few Iranians who find any reason to celebrate its anniversary.

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