The uprising in Isfahan is a reflection of the current state of Iran: A population that has long lost its patience with its tyrannical rulers, and a ruling class whose main implement of sovereignty—violence and intimidation—is fast losing it efficiency.
The farmers of Isfahan returned to the dried basin of Zayandeh Rud river on Friday, a day after the regime’s security forces attacked their weeks-long peaceful assembly, burning their tents and forcing them to disperse. The regime even went to great length to raze the area to leave no trace of the protesters who had been holding sit-ins and demonstrations for more than two weeks.
The protesters were mostly farmers, who demand fair access to irrigation water and are objecting to the government’s mismanagement of the province’s water sources. The government has mainly ignored their demands and has only made hollow promises to resolve their problems in the future.
In the weeks since they began their protests, they have garnered widespread support from the people of Isfahan and other provinces. Thousands rallied to their cause and joined their protests. Meanwhile, similar protests are taking place in neighboring provinces, a situation that is intolerable for the regime.
On Friday morning, when the farmers returned to Zayandeh Rud, security forces were waiting for them. The regime went into its routine process of sending troops and cracking down on demonstrators. Anti-riot forces attacked and tried disperse the unarmed farmers. Accompanying them were state security forces, Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) units, and plainclothes agents. But this time, the farmers, whose have been driven to misery and bankruptcy because of the regime’s policies, stood their ground. They resisted and forced the anti-riot forces to flee.
Within a few hours, protests spread to other parts of the city, where the protesters disrupted a motorcade of anti-riot units who were trying to suppress the protesters. The protests quickly turned political in nature, and slogans for water turned into demands for regime change and the overthrow of the rule of regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
The regime resorted to opening fire on protesters, shooting teargas into their midst and directly targeting them with pellet guns. In some areas, anti-riot forces attacked and violently beat the protesters. Many protesters were badly injured and several were arrested. But protests raged and continued through the night.
After giving the regime ample chance to respond to their most basic demands, the protesters were their to claim their rights in the only way they could: raising their voices and showing the regime that they have nothing to lose or fear.
The events in Isfahan are reminiscent of the November 2019 protest, when protests over gasoline prices quickly turned into a nationwide rally to overthrow the tyrannical rule of the mullahs. On the bring of total collapse, the regime only managed to maintain its hold on power by cutting off internet access and resorting to sheer violence, ordering its security forces to open fire on the protesters. At least 1,500 demonstrators were killed in the span of few days, and several thousand were rounded up and taken to prisons, where they were subjected to brutal torture.
But two years after the brutal suppression of the November 2019 uprising, Iran’s people are back to the streets and are resisting the same security forces. And the main reason is that Iran’s regime is incapable and unwilling to solve the people’s problems. The regime’s own media and analysts are warning that the ongoing decline in economic conditions are likely to trigger another round of intense protests, one that will be beyond the control of the regime.
Isfahan is not the only province whose population are suffering from water shortages caused by the regime. Water shortage protests are ongoing in Shahr-e Kord, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province. And Khuzestan saw intense water protests in July, during which the regime’s security forces killed and injured dozens of people.
And the farmers are not the only segment of the Iranian society who are protesting the economic situations. Every day, teachers, workers, civil servants, retired government employees, creditors, and people of all walks of life are gathering in different parts of Iran to protest unemployment, poverty, inflation, rising prices, and government corruption.
In this regard, Isfahan is only a prelude to what is awaiting the regime down the road. The regime is faced with a deadlock. If it resorts to violence, it will only infuriate a people who no longer fears its apparatus of repression. If it remains idle, protests will continue to grow, join and become bigger movements that evolve from economic grievances to demands for regime change.
After four decades of brutal rule, the mullahs’ playbook has run its course. They are fast running out of options, and the people of Iran are fast catching up.