Khamenei Sounds Cautious On Iran Protests, Blames Officials
Eight days after intense protests broke out over severe water shortage and a host of other grievances in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan Province, the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei finally spoke about the crisis on Friday saying that he was concerned about "the people’s water problems and their difficulties."
Khamenei who sounded more conciliatory than usual also said: " It’s truly painful that in Khuzestan which has such loyal people, natural resources and potentials, and so many factories, the people’s situation has dissatisfied and upset them." However, Khamenei did not criticize lethal force security forces are using against protesters in Khuzestan and elsewhere. At the same time, he urged protesters not to do anything "to please the enemies".
However, he blamed Presidential administrations for the water shortage, adding that "Had the advice regarding Khuzestan’s water and wastewater system been heeded, surely such problems wouldn’t have arisen. Now people have voiced their dissatisfaction and they can’t be blamed at all. They’re upset. Water isn’t a minor issue, especially not in the Khuzestan hot climate."
Critics using the cover of anonymity on social media responded that the fact that various administrations did not listen to Khamenei showed either he did not have the authority to have his words heeded, or his advice was not practical.
In a gesture probably calibrated to mollify the large Arabic speaking community in the province, Khamenei characterized the people of Khuzestan as "very loyal" [to the Islamic regime], adding that "During the war with Iraq (1980-88), it was the people of Khuzestan who were at the forefront of the problems, and they truly stood up to defend the country. I have observed this very closely." Some have speculated that the protests have ethnic motivation, while non-Arabs have also joined the demonstrations.
As Iranian analyst Mehdi Mahdavi Azad told Iran International TV, judging by the excerpts from Khamenei's speech, "this was the first time since the 1980s that Khamenei did not attribute a crisis to Israel, the United States and the opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq and acknowledged that there was a crisis somewhere in Iran."
Still, according to Mahdavi Azad, although Khamenei has been in charge of the Islamic Republic as its top leader for three decades, and intervened in all matters relating to the state, he blames presidential administrations for the mounting problems in Khuzestan and elsewhere.
In the meantime, widespread street protests have spilled from oil-rich Khuzestan to the neighboring Lorestan where at least one protester was killed by security forces in Aligoudarz. News sources in Iran as well as monitoring agencies in the West say the Internet has been partially shut down in Iran; an indication that the security forces are keen to crack down on protests. Other reports say extra forces have been deployed to Khuzestan and Lorestan to suppress the protests. At least eight citizens have been reportedly shot dead during protests over the past week.
Trade unions and various activist groups have expressed support for protesters in Khuzestan. This includes groups of teachers and film industry activists and the Union of the steel mill workers in Ahvaz. Pockets of protests have also been seen at subway stations in Tehran and Karaj. A gathering was also held in Shahin Shahr near Isfahan in solidarity with Khuzestan protesters.
According to the Iran Human Rights campaign, the steel mill workers have threatened to take to the streets if the problems of water and electricity shortage in Khuzestan are not quickly solved.
Reminding that Khamenei has blamed the Rouhani administration for shortcomings in power and water supply, Iranian analyst Alan Tofighi observed that Khamenei has also used the same projection technique blaming the administration and foreign suppliers for the inefficiency of the public vaccination plan in Iran on the same day he had his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on live TV. Khamenei accused foreign companies, presumably Russian and Chinese, of not standing by their promises while he has banned the purchase of American and British vaccines.