By Mansoureh Galestan, Originally published in NCR-Iran.org, 26th March 2021
With the growing public dissent in Iran, the regime’s officials express their fear of social media and its effects on the restive society.
During his yearly speech on the Persian New Year occasion (Nowruz) on Sunday, the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, expressed his fear of social media and its role in exposing the regime’s weakness.
“Some try to create a negative impression [on social media] and show that we are headed for a dead end. In June, we have important elections ahead that can significantly impact the future of the system. Enemies make the most of cyberspace. Unfortunately, in our country’s cyberspace, the necessary observations are not made, despite all the emphasis I have had. All the countries of the world are managing their cyberspace. But we are proud to have abandoned cyberspace. This is not an honor. This is not an honor at all; Cyberspace must be managed,” he said.
Following Khamenei’s remarks on Sunday, other regime officials echoed his fear of the social media and Iran’s restive society.
“The social media, like other technologies, has both edges of threat and opportunity. Idleness in social media is the greatest injustice [to the regime]. It is like handing [the social media] to the enemy so it could perform cognitive operations amid the economic warfare,” Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization, told state-run ISNA news agency.
Before Jalali, Hossain Salami, the IRGC commander, in a letter to Khamenei on Sunday, announced the creation of another oppressive headquarters to control the social media and fight so-called “corruption.”
“Your excellency should know that we will fight corruption. We will mobilize Basij groups and defeat the enemy and prevent them from implementing their policies. We will free the social media from idleness; we will stay in the field, we will cross the enemy strategy and help the [regime] to [circumvent] sanctions,” read Salami’s message.
Recently the regime’s Judiciary Chief, Ebrahim Raisi, tried to intimidate the public, also confirming the regime’s fear of people. “No insecurity in society is tolerable; the police and security officials should let disruptors act,” he said on Thursday, according to the state-run TV. Raisi is one of the main perpetrators of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners.
These warnings and expressing fear are not unfounded. The regime faces a restive society that could erupt at any moment. The mullahs’ 42-years of oppression and corruption have turned the society into a powder keg.
Recent protests in Golestan province, and Sistan and Baluchestan, with people targeting the regime’s forces and repression centers, are testaments to society’s explosiveness.
On Tuesday, locals in Gonbad-e Kavus, in Golestan province, northeast Iran, took to the streets, protesting the regime’s inaction in the face of raping two girls by a security guard in Golestan Dam.
Locals clashed with security forces and destroyed their vehicles. On Thursday, Ali Malek Shahkoohi, the IRGC commander in Golestan, expressed the regime’s fear of protests and boosting the morale of the regime’s forces.
“The system’s opponents and sworn-enemies tried to cause divisions and insecurity in the province, following the incidents in Gonbad-e Kavus, by using social media. People should consider the law above all. We should not hesitate in confronting the enemy. Preserving the [regime] is the number one priority and should be considered in this way,” he said, according to the state-run Mehr news agency on Thursday.
Who is this enemy on social media?
The regime mostly fears the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the fact that more people, mainly youth, are being attracted to the MEK and its democratic values.
“We see how the MEK has taken control of the social media, and by producing video clips, articles and documents daily encourages youths to [revolt] against the system. God knows what evil scheme they have for future riots [uprising]. Riots that, according to many security officials, will happen once again, and will not be comparable with the ones in January 2018 and November 2019,” wrote the state-run Mostaghel daily on February 23, 2021.
But will the regime be able to control this restive society and prevent people from approaching the opposition through oppression?
“I swear to God that with arresting, with guns and violence, we cannot solve problems such as inflation or control the society,” said Abbas Akhundi, the former Minister of Roads and Urban Development.