Angry Protestors Force Rouhani to Flee Rally in Tehran
A few weeks after being elected for a second term as president, Hassan Rouhani had to be whisked away from a rally in Tehran on June 23 by his security forces after being encircled by angry chanting protestors.
The mob shouted slogans comparing Rouhani to Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran’s first president who fled Iran in 1981 after falling out of favor with then Supreme Leader and Founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, for his more moderate policies.
In a video posted on social media, Rouhani’s bodyguards are seen trying to control the mob while whisking him away to safety.
— حقوق بشر در ایران (@ICHRI_Fa) June 23, 2017
On June 12, 2017 Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a reference to Banisadr in a speech to government officials: “The country should not be polarized. People should not be divided into supporters and opponents, as they were in 1980 by the president at that time. It’s dangerous,” said Khamenei.
In the June 23 incident on the streets of Tehran, First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri as well as First Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahhari, a Rouhani supporter, were also targeted by the angry protestors.
The mob shouted “Death to Banisadr” and “Rouhani, Banisadr, Happy Union,” among other anti-Rouhani slogans.
A day before the rally, Khamenei’s official Telegram channel posted a video reviewing the events that led to Banisadr’s downfall after 16 months in office.
Banisadr, a French-educated liberal, was one of Khomeini’s close advisers at the time of Iran’s revolution in 1979. But differences over the handling of the war with Iraq, the U.S. embassy hostage crisis, and Khomeini’s interference in government affairs resulted in Banisadr’s ouster.
The intensifying polarization in the country was most recently propelled forward by a remark on June 7 by Supreme Leader Khamenei, who exhorted his followers to “fire at will” if the political system was not doing its job.
“Sometimes the central think tanks and cultural and political institutions fall into disarray and stagnation,” Khamenei said, “and when that happens, officers against the soft war should recognize their duty, make decisions and act in a fire-at-will form.”
Hardliners in Iran often refer to Western cultural influences as a “soft war” against their national and religious values.
While Khamenei’s supporters have insisted the remark was metaphorical, urging people to take the initiative when government is not doing its job, many others, including Rouhani supporters, view the remarks as an invitation to violence against Rouhani and his centrist government.
Khamenei’s remark followed a letter from the Rouhani administration’s Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Reza Salehi Amiri, asking the state broadcasting organization (IRIB) to lift a ban on popular singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian, a vocal opponent of religious extremism.
Ali Shakouri-Rad, secretary general of the reformist Islamic Union Party of Iran, called on Khamenei to clarify what he meant by “fire at will” because “there are serious concerns it could be abused.”
An Islamic studies scholar at Duke University Mohsen Kadivar, who lives in the US as a researcher, described the Iranian supreme leader’s recent speeches as a prelude to “unlawful acts by the security forces and their civilian allies” against critics.
One of the angry chanters in the June 23 incident against Rouhani has been identified as radical Khamenei supporter Mohammad Ali Zarringhalam, a known member of the Basij militia, under the command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Before the Quds Day rally, Tehran’s Friday Prayer ceremony turned into a platform against the Rouhani government. Before the main sermon, a poem was read to thousands of congregators mocking those who “compromise and smile at the enemy.”
Following the June 23 incident, Rouhani’s supporters went on social media and launched a Twitter storm with #ISupportRouhani in Persian, which became the top trend worldwide.
A tweet by one Rouhani supporter shared many times said, “Now that it has come down to street confrontation, people of Iran have the right to call for their own gathering in support of the president.”
Deputy Speaker of Iran’s parliament Ali Motahari demanded action by the Judiciary to confront the attackers.
“The group that shouted slogans against the president during the Quds Day rally in a premeditated attack committed obvious crimes. The evidence is there and now we have to see how the Judiciary will react,” said Motahari on his Instagram page on June 23. “The Tehran Prosecutor is facing a great test either to pursue the criminals in a show of judicial impartiality or close its eyes and ignore justice in favor of political partisanship.”