(Al Jazeera Media Network) Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has denounced “enemies” for sparking unrest in the country and the region during a ceremony to mark the 44th anniversary of the 1979 revolution that birthed the Islamic republic.
In a televised speech to crowds at the Azadi (Freedom) Square in Tehran today (Saturday), the president remained defiant in the face of criticism by the West, specifically the United States, on the establishment’s response to protests that began in September last year.
“I say to the enemies; you want to hear the word of the people? These are the great people of Iran,” he said, followed by chants of “death to America” and “death to Israel” from the crowds.
Nationwide anti-government protests focusing on the country’s mandatory hijab covering for women ignited after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the country’s morality police on September 16. The demonstrations have since transformed into the greatest challenge to the Islamic republic since the 2009 Green Movement over disputed elections.
Emphasising Iranian authorities’ claims that the West and its allies have been behind the country’s unrest, Raisi said the country’s enemies failed to stop its progress, so they turned to the “project of chaos” that he said they have also tried to implement in neighbouring Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
“Those who have been deceived by the enemy now know that the enemy’s issue is neither woman nor life or freedom or human rights, but it wants to take away the independence and the tranquil life of the Iranian nation,” Raisi said in reference to the “woman, life, freedom” slogan that has defined the protests.
Responding to western criticism that the Islamic republic violates human rights and women’s rights, the president said the Iranian establishment is in a better position to criticize the behaviour of the West.
“You use women as tools and have turned them into commodities” while “you propagate the vilest form of obscenities, meaning homosexuality,” he said.
Raisi added that the West “created, supported, and armed ISIS [ISIL]” while Iran fought it, and added that Iran should not be denounced for its nuclear program because it has no nuclear weapons, unlike its western opponents.
During Raisi’s speech, the streaming website of state television was disrupted by a video by an apparent hacker group, which was displayed for several seconds before the feed was restored.
“Death to the Islamic republic,” a masked woman said with an altered voice in the video, calling for more street protests and taking money out of banks.
Throughout Saturday morning, state television carried live footage of demonstrations and marches in many Iranian cities, also showing top politicians and military commanders participating. Fireworks were set off across the country the night before the revolution’s anniversary.
In Tehran, authorities also made military displays, exhibiting several types of ballistic and cruise missiles in addition to armoured vehicles and drones – including the Shahed-136 kamikaze drone that the West accuses Russia of deploying in the Ukraine war.
Meanwhile, a day before the revolution anniversary, several figures opposed to the Islamic republic held meetings and a joint press conference at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
The group, which included Reza Pahlavi, the 62-year-old son of the last shah of Iran who fled during the 1979 revolution, called for unity and an end to infighting among opposition groups in an effort to overthrow the current establishment.