Middle East

Iranians are 'scared' of what else the year has in store amid the sorrow and anger

First there is the sorrow: whether it is for General Qasem Soleimani, the dozens crushed at his funeral, the 176 killed when Iran shot down UIA flight PS752, or those killed by security forces during protests in November, everyone in Iran is mourning someone.

Then there is the anger: against Donald Trump and the US for killing Soleimani, against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard for shooting down an airliner and lying about it, and at what is generally a miserable situation. And underlying all of it is a dim fear of what else the year has in store.

Those are the stages of shock described by an unscientific sample of Iranians since the beginning of the year. The truth is no one, from ordinary Iranians to regime officials and foreign diplomats, has any idea what is going to happen next.

But there are some powerful lessons from recent history to turn to.

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In the last years of the Soviet Union, public trust in the Communist Party in Moscow was fundamentally undermined by the Politburo’s mishandling of a series of disasters.

The shooting down of UIA flight PS752 is already drawing comparisons to the Chernobyl catastrophe – another disaster born of gross incompetence, made worse by clumsy and cynical lies.

The public protests, and the subsequent recriminations between Hassan Rouhani’s government and the Revolutionary Guard, have exposed deep but seldom visible fault lines within the Iranian establishment.

For regime change hawks in Washington, that will be taken as vindication: further proof Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy will bring down the Islamic Republic, just as they believe Ronald Reagan’s confrontation with the “evil Empire” won the Cold War. But while the parallels are apt, the neat explanations are best avoided.

As one Tehran resident pointed out, many of those who have taken to the streets to denounce the regime’s lies over the downing of UIA PS752 turned out just a few days earlier to mourn Soleimani. And two months before that, many were taking part in the protests against fuel price rises in which at least 300 people were shot by security forces.

It is awareness of those complexities that makes US allies deeply sceptical of the American obsession with regime change.

It is also why Mr Trump’s triumphalism may backfire.

“I am pretty sure that this year, Iran will change, but I don’t know how. It is making people scared, and making people wonder,” said one woman from Tehran.

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