Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on January 9 outlined elements of a conspiracy hatched by foreign powers that he claims was behind the demonstrations that broke out across Iran over the new year period.
Perhaps taking his cue from the explosive bestselling tell-all book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff, which questions Donald Trump's fitness for office, Khamenei also hit out at the “unstable” US president for grandstanding by tweeting support for protesters who rallied against the Iranian government. On his official Twitter account, Khamenei said: “This man who sits at the head of the White House – although, he seems to be a very unstable man – he must realize that these extreme and psychotic episodes won’t be left without a response.”
Turning to his claims of a foreign plot, Khamenei said that "the scheme was formed" by the US and Israel and that "the money came from a wealthy government" near the Persian Gulf. The latter remark was an apparent reference to Tehran's regional arch-rival, Saudi Arabia. Iranian intelligence reports, said the Iranian leader, indicated that "there's been a triangle pattern activating these events." He also singled out the UK as a culprit because of its continued broadcasting of the banned BBC Persian radio service into the Islamic Republic.
In a tweet, the supreme leader added: "Once again, the nation tells the US, Britain, and those who seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran from abroad that 'you've failed, and you will fail in the future, too'".
At least 22 people have died as a consequence of the unrest and officials were talking of around 1,000 arrests. However, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist politician who often serves as an independent voice in parliament, has claimed that around 3,700 people were actually arrested.
Khamenei conceded that some of the calls that were made by demonstrators were "honest and rightful demands," but did not elaborate.
Providing more details on those the ultra-conservative ruling elite claim were behind the disturbances, the supreme leader took aim at "henchmen" and members of the "MEK," a reference to the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation (sometimes known as the MKO), or People's Mujahedin of Iran. The MEK is an exiled dissident group that backs the overthrow of Iran's leadership and Khamenei suggested it had been "hired as minions for this plot".
The US has rejected all claims that Washington or American intelligence agencies played a role in fomenting or organising the protests, which spiralled into a great number of nationwide demonstrations after a rally in the conservative second city of Mashhad was called to protest against economic hardship, such as that caused by high food price inflation and the burden of persistent unemployment.
Although he recognises that economic hardship played a substantial role in triggering the demonstrations, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has hit out at hardliners who he sees as overstating its significance. Rouhani, who as president is responsible for managing the Iranian economy, said on January 9 that the unrest was about much more than people's economic difficulties and was driven by young Iranians who will no longer defer to the ageing revolutionary elite.
“It would be a misrepresentation and also an insult to Iranian people to say [the protesters] only had economic demands. People had economic, political and social demands,” the 69-year-old centrist and pragmatist, re-elected in May last year, said.