Amid the barrage of reporting and analysis on the Iranian protests in recent days, one study conducted by BBC Persian contained perhaps the single fact most relevant to the reality on the ground. Journalists working for the news outlet revealed that in roughly 90 percent of the cities where anti-regime protests have taken place over the last week, smaller public demonstrations about economic grievances—over unpaid wages, for example—had also taken place in recent months.
Since most of these cities are marginal towns with no recent history of political or civic activism, the study seems to confirm the very real grievances behind the protests.
In fact, some regime figures have acknowledged and confirmed this. But accepting that the downtrodden citizens of the Islamic Republic are revolting against a regime that has failed to fulfill its most basic promises after almost 40 years is a little too much for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the military-financial behemoth that deploys a language of social justice and revolution while harboring some of the wealthiest oligarchs in the Middle East.
The IRGC has thus come up with its own theory about the protests: It’s the work of three foreign countries with a hostile attitude toward Iran. It’s a theory that has been readily accepted by the Iranian judiciary, with possibly dire consequences for more than 1,500 citizens—the rough number that have been arrested so far during the protests.
The state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) is well versed in airing conspiracy theories spawned by the IRGC. In fact, its extreme take has come under heavy criticism from more moderate figures of the regime who see it as adding insult to the injuries of protesters.
This week, one of IRIB’s popular nightly talk shows was dedicated to the protests. The Channel Two show featured Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a conservative MP, and Reza Seraj, introduced as an “expert on strategic questions and a university professor.”
Seraj is well-known to many Iranian activists, although not exactly in those terms. Many of the thousands who have gone through the notorious interrogations blindfolded in Tehran’s Evin Prison remember his voice as an “expert interrogator.” He is known for meting out psychological torture rather than physical torture by flaunting his supposed knowledge of the intricate webs of espionage with which any given activist is allegedly involved.