The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth issued further instructions for the planned protests on December 5-7. The Mashhad group called for street protests on December 5, protests moving toward and occupying government buildings on December 6, and countrywide protests and marches in solidarity with university students on December 7. These instructions partially mirror those distributed by the Tehran Neighborhood Youth, which similarly differentiated planned protest activities by day, as CTP previously reported.
Protesters in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province rhetorically defended prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid against the regime on December 1, underscoring the dilemma the regime faces in its protest crackdown. Protesters gathered and erected a large poster of Abdol Hamid in a city square. The poster read that Abdol Hamid is the protesters’ “red line,” implying that they will not tolerate the regime arresting him or suppressing his message. The protesters may be responding to the purported internal regime memo that the Black Reward hacker group released on November 30. The memo reported that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to discredit and threatened to arrest Abdol Hamid for his role in inspiring protests, although CTP cannot verify these claims. Abdol Hamid’s message is seemingly resonating with a growing number of Iranians, especially in the Iranian Sunni community. Any regime action to silence him risks inflaming protests and anti-regime frustrations further. The regime may target individuals close to Abdol Hamid as a less escalatory step to silence him. The protestors today posed an additional dilemma for the regime, however, since failure to act against Abdol Hamid after the erection of the poster could make it appear that the regime was daunted by the protester threats and thus encourage similar defiance and threats elsewhere.
Some Iranian protesters celebrated the US victory over Iran in the World Cup on November 29. Iranians in Alborz, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, and Tehran provinces, among other locations, cheered and gathered during and after the match in opposition to the Iranian national team. Some reportedly launched fireworks in Saghez, Kurdistan Province after the American team scored a goal. CTP cannot assess how widespread this sentiment may be among Iranian protesters, but the reported celebrations indicate how politicized the Iranian national soccer team has become among at least some protesters. Iranian citizens cheering a US victory over Iran underscores the depth of popular frustration against the regime.
Social media users circulated calls for protests following the US-Iran world cup match on November 29 although it is unclear to what extent these demonstrations will materialize. Some protest organization groups and other prominent social media users circulated calls for protests on November 29, possibly in an attempt to coopt or challenge pro-regime celebrations on city streets. Some social media users disagreed with the November 29 call to protests and highlighted pre-organized protests scheduled for December 5-7. Another anti-regime social media user circulated ways to support the protest movement until demonstrations resume on December 5, further suggesting that protesters remain focused on unrest planned for December 5-7. The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj protest organization similarly alluded to requiring more time to reinforce its organizational capabilities and supplies before protests resume on December 5, as CTP previously reported. Recent social media activity from groups purporting to be protest organizations suggest diverging approaches to coordinating unrest, one of which calls for large crowds and emphasizes continuous protest activity, the other of which seemingly requires more time and preparation. This rhetorical schism could indicate that protest organization groups remain primarily local and lack a coherent, nation-wide structure.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly rejected the possibility of compromise or reform to placate the ongoing protests on November 26. Khamenei reiterated his hard line on the protests and his accusation that foreign actors incited the unrest. He ended his speech with a Quranic verse that social media users interpreted as further affirmation that he will not make concessions. Khamenei made these remarks in a meeting with Basij members and lauded their role in protest suppression.
The Iranian regime has adopted what increasingly resembles a counter-insurgency approach rather than a counter-protest one to manage the ongoing unrest. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that IRGC Ground Forces are clearing some cities in West Azerbaijan Province, including Boukan, Mahabad, Oshnaviyeh, Piranshahr, and other unnamed locations, of anti-regime elements on November 21. These IRGC military units are likely using extreme force and indiscriminately killing civilians to quell protests. Security forces are conducting a brutal crackdown in Javanroud, Kermanshah Province as well. Security forces have isolated Javanroud, blocking major roads into the city, and shot live ammunition and nerve gas at protesters. The closure of these major roads will impede most travel into and out of Javanroud given the rugged terrain surrounding the city. The IRGC Ground Forces 4th Ansar ol Rasoul Operational Brigade is headquartered in Javanroud and could support the regime crackdown there and in nearby locations. This increasing regime brutality accords with CTP’s previous assessment that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has likely greenlit the security forces to intensify their crackdown.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei likely issued an unpublished directive to violently suppress anti-regime protests within the past few days. The Supreme Leader discussed protests in a speech in Esfahan City, Esfahan Province on November 19. Khamenei’s speech did not contain significant rhetorical inflections or escalations in the way he discussed quelling unrest compared to prior speeches made in the past several weeks. Several senior regime officials called for a decisive crackdown on demonstrations on November 20, however, as regime violence against protesters in northwestern Iran escalated, suggesting that Khamenei likely greenlit the increased use of force against protesters. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stressed that responsible entities should take urgent and decisive action against “rioters” and blamed Western actors for unrest, mirroring Khamenei’s November 19 rhetoric, on November 20. IRGC Ground Forces Saheb ol Zaman Provincial Unit Commander in Esfahan Province Mojtaba Fada similarly promised a firm response to unrest “at the slightest hint from the [supreme] leader,” likely referencing Khamenei’s November 19 speech. The unit published a statement announcing the arrest of a ”terrorist team” that had killed security personnel in Esfahan Province and possessed firearms and hand-made bombs on the same day. Artesh Executive Deputy Mohammad Mahmoudi additionally stated that the Artesh was at the peak of its operational readiness and was prepared to carry out all its assigned missions on November 20. IRGC Aerospace Force Commander Ali Haji Zadeh also discussed the importance of following the Supreme Leader’s directives in a meeting on November 20.
Protest activity and strikes will likely increase from November 15 to 17. Protest coordinators and organizers have reiterated their calls for protests and countrywide strikes on these days and also urged citizens to not pay their utility bills. Social media accounts published videos on November 14 claiming to depict protesters traveling from Tabriz, East Azerbaijan to Tehran to demonstrate and “conquer” Tehran. Other protesters have used similar rhetoric in recent days, calling for citizens to conquer a main Tehran highway during the upcoming protests, as CTP previously reported.
Overall protest turnout throughout Iran has diminished in recent days but surged in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on November 11. Protests have occurred almost every Friday in Sistan and Baluchistan Province since the brutal regime crackdown in Zahedan on September 30. The Friday protest activity on November 11 was the most geographically widespread yet, occurring in at least six cities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. The previous Friday, November 4, saw protest activity in five cities in the province.
The ongoing protests are creating fractures within the Iranian hardliner camp. Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and his inner circle have clashed politically with other hardliners who have taken harsher stances against the protests, according to Iranian media. Ghalibaf and his inner circle have blamed these hardliners—specifically Saeed Jalili and others in the Stability Front party—for stoking unrest among disaffected Iranian youth. Jalili was the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 2007 to 2013. One parliamentarian reportedly close to Ghalibaf wrote an op-ed accusing parliamentarians close to Jalili of having inflexible and uncompromising views and calling media affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) “harsh and violent” on October 25. Ghalibaf endorsed economic and sociopolitical reform in a parliamentary address on November 5, describing changes made within the parameters of the Islamic Republic as “legitimate and necessary.” Ghalibaf likely seeks to use such promises of reform to placate protesters. Ghalibaf will not likely support meaningful political reform, however.