DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran on Friday marked the takeover of the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979 as its theocracy faces nationwide protests following the death in September of a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the country’s vice police.
Iranian state television broadcast live streams of various commemorations across the country, with some in Tehran holding up signs of the triangle-shaped Iranian drones Russia is now using to strike targets in its war against Ukraine. But while crowds in Tehran appeared large with chador-wearing women waving the Islamic Republic flag, other commemorations around the country appeared smaller, with just a few dozen people attending.
Iran’s hardline chairman Ebrahim Raisi, addressing those gathered outside the former US Embassy building, criticized those protesting against theocracy.
“Anyone who takes the slightest step in the direction of a security breach and riots should know that he is walking in the direction of the enemies of the Islamic revolution,” he said. “The Americans think they can execute the plan they have in place in some countries like Syria and Libya here. What a false dream!”
Those present at the commemoration also waved effigies of French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Signs and chants from the crowd shouted, “Death to America! Death to Israel!”
The protests that have rocked Iran for seven weeks following the death of Mahsa Amini mark one of the greatest challenges to the country’s religious leaders since they took power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. At least 300 Protesters have been killed and 14,000 arrested since the unrest began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the crackdown on protesters.
The Iranian government has not offered an overall death toll, with one state-run newspaper even counterfactually claiming that no one was killed by security forces during the 49 days of protests.
Later on Friday, protests began in Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, which has seen weeks of unrest. Videos online claimed to show people walking through the streets and some throwing rocks, with the crackle of gunfire in the background and rising clouds of tear gas. Some protesters appeared bloodied, while activists said some had been killed. No casualty figures were immediately known.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency later reported that protesters burned down a police station in Khash, a town in Sistan and Balochistan, and attacked the local governor’s office.
On Thursday, a Shiite cleric was reportedly shot dead in Sistan and Balochistan, a long-turbulent and predominantly Sunni province.
Hardliners in Iran have long ferried government workers and others to these November 4 protests, which have a carnival-like feel for students and other participants on Taleqani Street in downtown Tehran. .
This year, however, it has remained clear that Iran’s theocracy hopes to energize its hard base. Some signs read “We are obedient to the leader”, referring to the 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state in the country. The week-long protests have included cries calling for Khamenei’s death and the overthrow of the government.
The annual commemoration marks when student protesters scaled the embassy fence on November 4, 1979, angered by then-President Jimmy Carter, allowing the fatally ill Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to receive treatment for cancer in the United States.
The students quickly took possession of the entire green enclosure. A few staff members fled and hid in the house of Canada’s ambassador to Iran before escaping the country with CIA assistance, a story dramatized in the 2012 film “Argo.”
The 444-day crisis ripped through America, as nighttime images of blindfolded hostages played on TVs across the country. Iran finally let all the captives go the day Carter left office on Ronald Reagan’s inauguration day in 1981.
This enmity between Iran and the United States diminished and increased in the decades that followed. The United States and world powers reached a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 that drastically reduced its program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. However, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018, sparking years of tension since.
Late Thursday in California at a rally ahead of the US midterm elections, President Joe Biden also interrupted his speech to address a crowd brandishing cellphones displaying the message “FREE IRAN”.
“Don’t worry, we’re going to liberate Iran,” Biden said in an aside at a campaign rally for Democratic Rep. Mike Levin. He added: “They will be free soon.”
In his Friday speech, Raisi referenced Biden’s comments.
“Maybe he said that because of a lack of focus. … He said we aim to liberate Iran,” Raisi said. ” Mister President ! Iran was liberated 43 years ago, and it is determined not to be your captive again. We will never become a dairy cow.
Biden had said he was open to the United States joining the nuclear deal, but the talks fell through. Since the protests began in mid-September, the US stance appears to have hardened, with officials saying restoring the deal is not a priority amid the protests.
On Friday, some protesters held up giant signs of atoms as a reminder that Iran is now enriching uranium to levels closer to weapons-grade than ever before. Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear weapon if it so chooses, although Tehran insists its program is peaceful.