In the past two months Iranian protesters have made it quite clear they consider the regime unreformable and are pursuing its demise, without a clear leader.
Protesters have so far almost completely ignored President Ebrahim Raisi -- whose government has failed to deliver on most of his campaign promises including improvement of people’s livelihoods. They are not asking the president to improve the economy or build public housing. The slogans they chant in the streets, in universities, and from their windows and rooftops are addressed to someone else.
Often containing derogatory expressions and profanities, protesters chant against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei whom they hold responsible for all their grievances including Raisi’s presidency.
Protests have intensified and become more frequent in most major cities, spreading to smaller towns across the country, even to some remote and generally quiet areas. This is a sign that what is taking place resembles more a revolution than demand for reforms.
Anti-government protests in many small cities and towns, often considered traditional and conservative, where everyone knows everyone else, were very rare if not non-existent in the past but the recent protests seem to show that people in these places have overcome their fear of retribution from the establishment and probably consider the days of the Islamic Republic numbered.
Protesters in Tehran chant, "Our target is the whole regime"
Reports of extensive protests in Murmuri, a small town of less than 4,000 in Ilam Province and Evaz, a town of 14,000 in Fars Province, for instance, surprised many Iranians who had not even heard the names of these places before. Videos posted on social media November 15 showed a large crowd of men and women, who had flouted their hijab, chanting together “Mullah should be banished!” in Evaz. In Abadeh, a town of around 50,000 last week they chanted “This is the last message: Our target is [to topple] the whole system!”.
The Islamic Republic, and its leadership, have nearly wiped out all opposition political groups including those who never wanted anything more than reforms, hugely limited the media, and even marginalized many insiders such as former presidents -- reformist Mohammad Khatami, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and moderate Hassan Rouhani – and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a conservative.
Former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi
Nevertheless, for protesters, these former regime insiders, including Khatami who was once the most popular political figure in Iran, are not an alternative. The situation has led many to look outside Iran, among the diaspora, for figures who could at least lead the period of transition to a secular, democratic system.
Activist Masih Alinejad with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan
Several names have been suggested as leaders or members of an interim government in the post-Islamic Republic era by both protesters in Iran and the huge diaspora that has supported the movement with regular weekly rallies in major world cities.
Canadian-Iranian activist Hamed Esmaeilion
These include the former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, activists Masih Alinejad, Hamed Esmaeilion, Nazanin Bonyadi, and footballer Ali Karimi all of whom live abroad. There are also other possible candidates, such as Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, but no one currently residing in Iran.
Activist Nazanin Bonyadi with US national security adviser in October 2022
Thousands of people inside and outside the country, have used social media to call on these figures, whose political views are diverse, to form a coalition to lead the revolution. The hashtag “FormCoalition” created to reflect this wish is quickly gaining popularity.
“There’s no ideology behind this revolution. I think we will go to the end this time... The difference [with previous protests] is that there is great hope this time, the hope that the end of the Islamic Republic has come,” said Canada-based Esmaeilion at the Halifax International Security Forum Saturday which several others including Alinejad and Bonyadi also attended.