Iranian hardliners in control of parliament and government mostly advocate a harsh response to protests but even among them there are some who call for dialogue.
On the same day when 227 members of Iran’s parliament (Majles) called for death sentence for those arrested during recent protests, Iran's Minister of Tourism and Cultural Heritage, Ezzatollah Zarghami, advocated dialogue between the government and the protesters, highlighting some chaos and indecision in the ruling circles.
Speaking in a meeting with Sharif University students Sunday, Zarghami, a former Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) officer who was once Iran's culture minister and the head of the country's state television, admitted that "Some of the approaches of Iranian officials are wrong but they fear the regime will face a serious danger if they put a step back from their position.”
Referring to the news of young Iranian knocking Shiite clerics' turbans off their heads, Zarghami said these are low-income clerics who are paying for the luxurious lifestyle of rich mullahs.
He insisted that Iran needs reforms and many members of the elite have warned the government about this. "Many others warned about the morality police and said what they were doing was wrong," he said.
Public statements by many officials, such as Zarghami, show they are still stuck in the perception that if hijab enforcement is relaxed, protests will end, but what protesters say in the streets is that they have passed that stage and want the regime to fall.
Zarghami at Sharif University on Nov. 7, 2022
Zarghami who has been active on social media for years, acknowledged that Iranians no longer trust the official media, and journalist do not write some of what is going on in the society, fearing government reprisal. He admitted that "You cannot say anything [in Iran] if there is no social media."
He criticized officials, without naming anyone, for failing to understand the people and their anger, and said he himself was frustrated because of the way his candidacy in the 2021 presidential election was handled.
In one of the most controversial comments he made in the presence of the students, he said: "When you look at some financial corruption cases, you will see that individuals from all parts of the establishment are involved in it."
But why Zarghami can say these things and get away while other officials do not? Perhaps one of the reasons is that others have no ambition for the future and simply wish to protect what they have. But Zarghami, more likely, still wants to be Iran's next president and having smelled the need for change, he probably thinks the regime will have no choice other than surrendering to some of the protesters' demands. By trying to talk to Sharif University Students who have been in the forefront of the protests, he is touting himself as the man who can make peace with Iran's angry young men and women. But the question is to what extent hardliners in the core of the regime, and students in the forefront of protests, would listen to him.
Reformist cultural activist Hadi Khaniki has likened the need to hold dialogue with the youth to chemotherapy to cure a cancer patient. "It is painful and hard, but it might have some good effect," Khaniki told Etemad Online website. A cancer patient himself, Khaniki said: "The country has a cancer which has its roots among top-level officials and if no one pays any attention to that, the cancer will spread to the other parts of the system.
In another development, Hassan Khomeini, the ambitious grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khmomeini, the fundamentalist founder of the Islamic Republic suggested in an interview Etemad Online that "The government had better begin to listen to the people." He said if the situation develops into a deadlock, our only way out would be to seek democratic solutions. He ignored the fact that he has got his position of wealth and power through non-democratic ways, in a hereditary system.