Al-Arabia – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei refrained on Wednesday from commenting on ongoing protests in his first public appearance since anti-regime demonstrations sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody escalated.
Khamenei addressed a gathering in Tehran that included senior military commanders ahead of the anniversary of the start of the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war in 1980. The speech was broadcast on state TV.
Khamenei’s speech did not include any remarks about protests in Iran and instead focused on the war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Some observers had expected Khamenei to comment on the ongoing protests in the country. The supreme leader has in the past blamed anti-regime demonstrations on the Islamic Republic’s foreign “enemies.”
Khamenei’s apparent “indifference” to the ongoing protests shows that “he has not woken up yet,” Iranian journalist Reza Haghighatnejad wrote on Twitter. “Sleep, old man, the people are awake.”
Iranian journalist Behnam Gholipour said Khamenei did not address the ongoing unrest to protect President Ebrahim Raisi, who is currently in New York and is due to address the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.
“(Khamenei) did not talk (about the protests) so that Raisi would not be under pressure from the media, and his speech at the UN would not be sidelined,” Gholipour wrote on Twitter.
“After Raisi returns and if protests continue, (Khamenei) will undoubtedly take a stand,” he added.
Protests erupted across Iran after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, was pronounced dead on Friday. Amini fell into a coma shortly after she was detained by the morality police for allegedly not complying with the regime’s strict hijab rules in Tehran on September 13.
Activists and protesters say Amini was beaten by police officers while in detention, causing her serious injuries that led to her death. Police deny the allegations.
The protests continued for a fifth consecutive day in dozens of cities on Tuesday, with demonstrators chanting against Khamenei and calling for the downfall of the regime, footage circulating on social media showed.
Some of the videos showed women removing their headscarves and, in some cases, burning them in several cities in unprecedented scenes in a country where hijab has been mandatory for women since shortly after the country’s 1979 revolution.