MESOP NEWS “ULTIMATIVE INSIDER IRANIAN PROTEST: TOO MUCH DRUGS – TOO MUCH CHEAP SEX – BUT NO FOOD ! – “If you don’t fund them they will shut up today or tomorrow. If they find someone to give them food they will decline,” predicts Helobi.

Sex, drugs and poverty: A look at Iran on the eve of the protests / Are Iranians about to topple their regime?

By Seth J. Frantzman – January 3, 2018 14:11 – Jerusalem Post – In exclusive interview, recent visitor to Iran says people are demanding freedom and better living conditions, but they fear a crackdown and government informants.

 “The people want freedom. They are hungry for it. This is the most difficult situation in Iran that is going on now.”  Majd Helobi, a Kurdish journalist, returned from Iran last month on the eve of the protests. During his travels there he met with dozens of people, including students and businessmen. In an exclusive to the Post he speaks about conditions inside the regime.“Hungry” is the word Helobi uses again and again to describe Iranians today. Hungry because people are living in poverty, but also hungry for change. “People in Iran are hungry. It’s not just about changing the government, it’s about doing anything they want to get change.”

In December he spent seven days traveling around Tehran and other areas in Iran. “I asked the people what they thought,” he recalls. “They were mad at the government and hungry. They see stories of people who died in Yemen and Syria and people say ‘the government is sending our kids and putting their hands in places we don’t have business being there.’”  This is a reference to Iran’s involvement in Syria and its support for Shi’ite militias in Lebanon, Yemen and Iran. Iran has recruited foreigners to fight, such as from Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it has also recruited Iranians. It doesn’t release the casualty figures, but Helobi says many people expressed frustration with Iran’s policy of involvement in foreign wars. “Why are there so many martyrs?” people asked. They claim the government brainwashed young men to go fight abroad.

Since December 28 Iran has been rocked by protests in cities and towns across the country. From the Kurdish regions in the west to Mashhad in the far east, from Rasht near the Caspian to Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, protesters have shouted slogans against the Ayatollah, and expressed anger about poverty and the government wasting money abroad. In the last days more than a dozen have been killed and police stations, banks and other buildings have become targets of wrath.

“The economy is messed up,” recalls Helobi. “If a worker works hard all day he will earn only $15. The money is crap.” He says that for foreigners money goes very far because things are cheap. A hotel room in a nice hotel costs less than $50. “The people there are not getting anything.” As a result they curse Ayatollah Khamenei, the “supreme leader.” Helobi says he met two dozen people while there and many of them are angry at the country. “I met business people and students to understand the situation. They said the situation is very bad. They said, look across the border in Iraq, look at Europe, we don’t have freedom here, we don’t have Facebook.”

Helobi also describes a state infiltrated by government informants and living in fear. People use VPN to get around the government internet censorship, which is thought to restrict up to 25% of internet locations including many popular sites and apps. But using VPN is illegal, he says. “If you get caught you get in trouble.” The public is afraid to speak to outsiders and concerned about intelligence agents. Security is very strong. “I am speaking with people even today that I met and they are afraid. They are afraid of the government catching them, spying on them on Instagram and Facebook. And they are afraid to speak anywhere.”

Helobi compares the Iranian regime to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad government. “Similar to Assad 100%, but Rouhani is smarter than Assad. He goes on social media. He shows the people that those people who are protesting are bad. In Syria they didn’t do that. In Syria the satellite channels hid the protests.” Helobi predicts that the Iranian regime is considering sending agent provocateurs among the protesters, to encourage the protests to be more violent and create an excuse for a crackdown. This would be modeled on Assad’s decision to release extremists from prisons to discredit the rebellion. Syrian rebel groups and former Syrian regime officials have alleged this happened in the summer and fall of 2011 during the build-up to the Syrian civil war.Presently, the regime’s narrative on the protests is to claim that peacefully expressing grievances is acceptable, but rioting is not. Press TV and other state outlets have sought to bifurcate the protests. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Tuesday that people “have the right to vote and to protest. These hard-earned rights will be protected and infiltrators will not be allowed to sabotage them through violence and destruction.” However, the same regime has restricted the internet and cracked down on the protests. Helobi points out that today the regime is accusing the US and Israel of being behind the protests to discredit them.

Iranian people are being kept in a cage “like a zoo.”

Iranian society is eating itself alive, Helobi says. Competition for jobs is intense. There is also a major contrast between the publicly enforced theocracy on the streets and Iranians at home in Tehran. “The government allows drug use. Weed, everything, just to let the people hide. When you walk on the street it looks like many people are high. It’s incredible, they don’t think about the situation.” He claims that the prevalence of drug use, which has been a multi-decade problem in Iran, has dulled people from the social problems and provided them an outlet not to focus on economic issues. “You can find drugs but not alcohol,” he says.

He also says there was a surprisingly high degree of prostitution. The desperation of poverty was driving women to sell themselves for sex. He says there were prostitutes in hotels and elsewhere charging $10. There were also homeless people around. He says he saw them in the city center and in various public markets.

The country feels “like a zoo.” People acted like they were in a kind of cage or giant prison, worried about having foreign contacts, worried to share their photos online or with outsiders. “People told me, delete my contact when you leave.” He says the constant fear of the government and paid informants keeps people on edge. It reminds one of the situation in East Germany under the Stasi. In contrast to the low pay of daily work, “if I told the government where a protest might be I could get $1,000,” he says. So the people believe intelligence agents are everywhere. In contrast to other regimes in the region, such as Syria’s mahabharat, he says the Iranian intelligence operation is far more sophisticated. “In Syria only the intelligence people worked with other government officials, it was difficult for them to get information because everyone knew who they were.” But in Iran he says the state’s ability to infiltrate the civilian population is much greater.And yet, the people are angry. They are angry at foreigners as well. “They hate Syrians because so many Iranians died fighting in Syria.” They are also suspicious of separatism among minority groups such as Kurds. “The Sunni community in Iran is very, very mad at the Shi’ite government. The government ignores them 100%. I was in some places like Pakdasht near Tehran, which is a Sunni area, and heard this.”

Blood will flow

Now the Iranian satellite TV is showing the protesters burning schools and buildings. The regime is pushing people not to go out and protest. “Tehran will face protests in coming days,” Helobi thinks. But there will be a purposeful attempt to use the violence as an excuse to crack down on the people.He says that there may be a chance at compromise from the regime as well. “If you look at the protesters you can see there are more women than men. Women have many demands. They say they don’t want hijab anymore, and they want freedom.”  Rouhani might be willing to compromise on some demands because many Persian Iranians from different walks of life are protesting. But he says it’s not clear. “There is no internet and they are in total darkness there.”  Eventually more blood will flow when the regime cracks down.

He also says that some protesters blame Rouhani for having done nothing in the last years to alleviate people’s suffering. They see him as close-minded even in comparison to previous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was widely seen as seeking to improve the lives of the poor through schemes such as the Mehr Housing projects. Many of these were called a failure by the current government.

The protests will likely end unless they receive some boost of support. “If you don’t fund them they will shut up today or tomorrow. If they find someone to give them food they will decline,” predicts Helobi.