Protests in Iran have met censorship and brutality, but Christian broadcasters use daily media to spark lasting reformation. (Associated Press)
It’s noon in Dallas and 8:30 in the evening in Tehran when Hormoz Shariat, founder of satellite television’s Iran Alive Ministries, steps to the camera to begin the station’s daily live satellite broadcast. The 62-year-old Iranian-American pastor, wearing rimless glasses and a suit and tie, strikes a friendly posture whether he is preaching to a large studio audience or seated in comfortable chairs with his co-hosts. But he takes the one-hour live show very seriously: With a prime-time slot beamed from Texas into the Islamic republic, Iran Alive’s Christian programming has an estimated audience of 6 million people.
That’s nearly 8 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims. Whether Iran has 2 million Christians—an estimate Shariat believes is not inflated—or closer to 500,000, as some experts claim, “that’s a lot of Muslims watching us,” he concedes. In addition to Iran Alive, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has Persian-language programming in the Middle East, and Cyprus-based SAT-7 PARS also carries round-the-clock Persian-language Christian shows.
God is the God of history. He uses historical events to advance his purpose. In this blog, by looking at the recent uprising and comparing it to 2009 Green Movement, we will see that in the midst of all these events and even chaos, God is advancing the people of Iran, step by step, toward the fulfilment of his promise in Jeremiah 49:38: “I will set my throne in Elam (Iran).”
In 2009, the Iranian people rose up in protest against the government and demonstrated in the streets. In late December 2017 and early 2018, the people again took to the streets in protest, tore down pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and chanted death slogans. Government forces responded brutally both times, arresting thousands and killing scores of people.
But these two uprisings are very different. Their outcomes will be different, too. This time, the eyes of the people have opened.
What Happened in 2009?
The Green Movement of 2009 happened because the people protested fraud in an election that declared incumbent hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the presidential winner. A majority of people had voted for a moderate candidate, yet the election result did not reflect that vote. The demonstrators, protesting in a few large cities, demanded a recount.
After a brutal crackdown, the people also began demanding civil liberties promised them in the 1979 Revolution.
In 2013, a moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, won the election, and the people celebrated.
The Clerical Government’s Political Game
Over and over again, the Islamic government of Iran has deceived its people with a political game: alternately “electing” a hardliner or a moderate candidate to the president’s office. This game show has been going on since the mid-1990s. The people of Iran would become so desperate after a period of a hardliner rule that they would feel victory and relief when they got to elect a moderate president.
They celebrated on the streets when Rouhani was elected in June 2013 and again in May 2017. The majority failed to realize that this election was just a staged political play to keep them busy year after year, for president after president.
During last year’s election campaign for Rouhani, the people were very excited and involved, not fully understanding the implications of having only two clergy-approved candidates: Ebrahim Raisi (with a black turban) and Rouhani (with a white turban).
Both candidates were required to implement the will of the mullahs. The real choice that Supreme Leader Khamenei was giving the people was this: Do you want a president with a black turban or white turban?
Candidate Ebrahim Raisi (Tasnim News Agency, CC 4.0)
President Hassan Rouhani (Tasnim News Agency CC by 4.0)
The people did not realize that moderate candidates are just a faction of the extremists who want to give the people a little freedom (e.g., letting a woman show her hair a little more without threat of arrest). Otherwise, in policy and decision making, moderates are still committed to obey the Supreme Leader Khamenei and implement his wishes.
“Over and over again, the Islamic government of Iran has deceived its people with a political game: alternately “electing” a hardliner or a moderate candidate to the president’s office.”
What is Happening in 2018?
What is happening now is that the people of Iran are finally waking up to this game. They realize that the mullahs in power have been manipulating them for decades: keeping them busy with governmental politics while advancing their own agenda domestically and internationally and personally benefiting from their positions of power.
They now know that electing a moderate president is a hoax and will never do them any good. We are seeing a big shift in awareness and a desperation for something different, something more.
After the first large-scale demonstrations died down, many mainstream media outlets reported that the spontaneous uprisings had fallen apart. But the eyes of the Iranian people are now open, and this hunger will not go away. I am not the only one saying this. Alireza Nadar, a senior policy analyst at RAND corporation recently wrote the following:
There has been speculation that the uprising will die out or be crushed by the regime. However, a key barrier has been broken: Iranians are no longer contained by the wall of fear created by the Islamic Republic. Not only has Iran’s theocracy lost its legitimacy, but it has lost its ability to control the public through the instruments of violence. Unlike in past protests, countless Iranians have demonstrated that they will no longer participate in the political game of “reformist vs. conservative” (better known as “moderates vs. conservatives” in the West). For them, no one from the establishment, including the so-called reformists, can make their lives better. For them, the entire system has to fall for a new Iran to be reborn. —Alizera Nadar, Politico Magazine
The #IranProtests are the beginning of change. It will take time, but change will happen in the next couple of years. The clerical government likely will not stay in power.
Consider these differences in the response of the people:
In 2009, the people rejected the result of an election; now they are rejecting the whole Islamic rule, even Islam itself.
In 2009, the people chanted, “Where is my vote?”; now they are chanting, “Death to the Islamic Republic” and “Death to Khamenei.” Even Rouhani, who was popular and celebrated in the streets after the May 2017 election, is facing “Death to Rouhani” slogans.
In 2009, the demonstrations occurred in only a few large cities; this time they started in scores of smaller cities and towns before getting to the big cities. The voices of some of these rural people have not been heard as a group since the revolution of 1979.
“This time, the eyes of the people are open.”
How You Can Pray for Iran
The hopelessness and desperation that brought about these protests are real. Iranians are suffering. Officially, forty percent live below the poverty line. In reality, the number is probably higher. They cannot find work. They cannot buy food or gas. Drought and water mismanagement has made it difficult to grow crops.
During our live, prime-time, daily programs in January, we encouraged people that God loves them and cares about their suffering, just as we do. We also shared that God has a plan to save and bless Iran. We showed Christians how to reach out to the demonstrators and provide love and hope. Many did.
Please pray that, God willing, we will be able to continue to mobilize the 2 million Christians in Iran to share the gospel and be the light and love of Christ to a hurting nation.
Pray that their pain will be a bridge to salvation.
Pray that their eyes remain open.
To learn even more about what is happening in Iran and how Iran Alive is responding, read this article by Mindy Belz in World Magazine, “Signals of Change.” You can also text “Iran” to 74784 to sign up for updates and testimonies.
Trump’s speech on the nuclear deal with Iran on January 12, 2018, has caused a jolt around the world. His ultimatum giving 120 days to fix “disastrous flaws” in the Obama-led nuclear deal has created shock waves not just in Iran but Europe and other countries as well. The reason is that the continuation, cancellation, or even modification of this deal will impact many countries in several tangible ways.
Below, I give a summary of the reactions, the reasons behind them, and what I think various sides of this agreement will do. I hope this will benefit your thinking through the different opinions on this hot-button issue.
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)
For the IRI, there is panic and fear. They know that if sanctions are restarted, it will put much pressure on both the government and the people of Iran. The government will become weaker, and the people, who are already fed up with the situation, may develop a more effective uprising that threatens even the IRI’s existence. It is a known fact that the previous set of sanctions imposed from 2012 to 2015 was bringing the government of Iran to its knees. The nuclear deal and the resulting $150 billion given to Iran was truly a lifeline to them, enabling them not only to survive but to thrive.
The previous set of sanctions imposed from 2012 to 2015 was bringing the government of Iran to its knees.
Nevertheless, the IRI has several ways to stop America from imposing new sanctions. How? Many European countries have made lucrative financial deals with Iran since the removal of previous sanctions, and they receive a substantial portion of their oil from Iran. Therefore, new sanctions will not only damage Iran but will also damage these countries. Russia and China will also join the pack supporting the IRI, not because of financial gain—they benefit either way because they will continue a financial relationship with Iran secretly even with sanctions—but because they do not agree with US policy.
So, it is very possible that the IRI will persuade the other countries to stand up to any U.S. demands to negotiate a new deal and impose new sanctions.
The People of Iran
Surprisingly, most Iranians support Trump’s policy towards Iran. It is interesting to note that the U.S. mainstream media covers the reaction of the IRI to Trump’s remarks regarding rewriting the nuclear deal, but they do not cover what the people of Iran say about it. Why? Because contrary to the mainstream media, the Iranian people are mostly pro-Trump on this issue.
Surprisingly, most Iranians support Trump’s policy towards Iran.
Here are the reasons:
In 2012 when the previous sanctions were imposed, the people of Iran stood behind their government and blamed the American-led sanctions for their bad economy and hard life. But now they have seen that even when the sanctions were lifted and the Obama administration gave the IRI $150 billion, the people’s situation remained the same. They are desperate and know that with or without sanctions, they will have a hard time earning a living, they will be oppressed, and they will be killed if they protest. They feel they have nothing to lose. They are so utterly hopeless that Trump’s standing up to IRI and trying to restore sanctions gives them some hope that they desperately need. It gives them a faint hope that maybe the future could get better.
Trump is addressing the human rights issue in Iran. President Obama never did that. Even during the uprising of 2009, he was silent and gave not even a word of encouragement or support to the Iranian people. Trump, in contrast, has put 14 Iranian individuals on the blacklist. One is Mr. Larijani, who is the head of judiciary in Iran and has been directly involved in the arrest and execution of the young people in 2009 and 2018. This gesture by Trump gives Iranians a feeling that finally somebody is caring and talking about the human rights violations in Iran and doing something about it.
Trump’s tough stand against the IRI gives the people of Iran hope that maybe this administration somehow will remove the brutal dictatorship from Iran. They deeply desire this and will support Trump even if it means they will have to suffer through another set of sanctions. Through eight years of Obama’s foreign policy that appeased the IRI, the people of Iran lost hope that the U.S. would ever do anything to help them and even doubted that the U.S. cared at all. Do not forget that the Iranian people love and admire the U.S. If they were given a choice, they would choose to have an American-style democracy established in Iran. They even desire that Iranian society would adopt American social norms and lifestyles.
The European Governments
They will not support Trump’s call to renegotiate the nuclear deal and impose new sanctions. Why?
They have much to lose. Just as Trump’s “America First” financial policy puts America’s financial interests above the interests of other countries, the European countries will also put their financial gain above Trump’s foreign policy toward Iran. Currently, Iran is sending 40 percent of its oil export to Europe, and these countries are dependent on that oil for their economy. Many have made lucrative long-term deals with Iran in the past two years. For example, the French energy giant Total has closed a deal with Iran to invest US$4.8 billion there.
In general, these countries do not care about U.S. foreign policy, and they may even be against it. It is not an issue for them when Iran stands up to the U.S. in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. They are not alarmed when the IRI threatens to wipe Israel off the map—and for certain they are not ready to pay a price just to diminish that threat to Israel.
European countries will put their financial gain above Trump’s foreign policy toward Iran.
Russia and China
They most likely will side with the European countries and stand up to Trump trying to renegotiate the nuclear deal.
Russia and the IRI both have similar goals for the Middle East and in many cases are working together to accomplish those goals (such as in Syria). A weak Iran could mean that the U.S. gains the upper hand in the areas where the IRI has been effectively meddling.
By supporting Iran against U.S. demands, they will improve their relationship with the IRI even more both politically and economically. Iran needs them to help stop new sanctions and will probably offer them new trade deals if they help defend against Trump’s ultimatum.
Iran will probably offer Russia new trade deals if they help defend against Trump’s ultimatum.
It looks as though Trump does not have enough support or leverage with the world powers and European countries to renegotiate the nuclear deal and muster up new sanctions. Of course, the U.S. could put sanctions on Iran unilaterally, but that would not be effective. Canceling any American financial dealings would create a vacuum that would be gladly filled by offers from Russia, China, and European countries.
As a result, Iranians will continue to be oppressed by a dictatorship that has shown that its main goal is survival and not caring for its own people.
There remains one possible hope for Iranians: the Revolutionary Guards, with or without direct help from America, could topple the rule of the clergy and establish a secular government. For the foreseeable future, that seems like the only way the government in Iran might—and probably will—change.
Meanwhile, Christianity is fast growing in Iran. The current events are the perfect storm through which the Lord is weaning Iran from Islam and attracting them with his love. Through all the bad news in Iran, he remains as the only good news.
Unfortunately, if the government of Iran changes to a secular democracy, the spiritual hunger of the people will die down very rapidly. So the time is short for Christians to work in Iran while this supernatural spiritual hunger exists.
We must work together to establish a strong church now. If we wait for Iran’s government to change, it will be too late.
The time is short for Christians to work in Iran while this supernatural spiritual hunger exists—so we are starting an equipping school called the “412 School.”
In 2018, we at Iran Alive are focusing on strengthening the underground church in Iran through equipping each Christian to be an agent of transformation. We are starting an equipping school called the “412 School” based on Ephesians 4:12—equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.
Would you join us to make this happen this year? Without friends like you, we are not able to do what we are called to do. We are issuing a “Macedonian call” to come and help us. Please contact me if you feel led to answer this call.
To express interest, you may send an email to info@IranAliveMinistries.org, which I check daily, or call (469) 982-0000. We will contact you to explore possibilities for partnership.
In this series, I have been addressing the spontaneous protests that began in Iran on December 28, 2017, in response to rising economic distress and the corrupt government. Since the demonstrations started, we have been broadcasting special live programs every evening at prime time in Iran to comfort the people and share the heart of God with them.
The 2 million or so Christians in Iran now have a chance to be the voice of real hope—hope that only exists in Christ.
Even though at least four thousand are reported arrested and are being tortured in prison, there is a bright spot in what is happening right now in Iran: the uprising creates a window for increased Christian activity and evangelism. Its impact will be in three areas:
1) It reduces persecution of Christians. The uprising alleviates—at least for a while—the focused persecution of Christians. The outbreak of mass dissent in the past two weeks is “one of the most serious crises Iran has faced in the past 25 years.” Right now the government has a more urgent matter than arresting Christians; they must work to bring the current situation under control.
2) It will give Christians greater opportunity to evangelize. The 2 million or so Christians in Iran now have a chance to be the voice of real hope—hope that only exists in Christ—to a hopeless, aimless, and desperate young generation.
Reaching this generation with the gospel will be easier because they have shown that they are desperate enough to take huge risks with their lives to oppose the government. Over 60 percent of the population is under age 30, meaning that at least half the country is now even more open to the good news of Christ.
3) It gives us an opportunity to train fearless young leaders for Christ. The demonstrations give Christian leaders like us at Iran Alive a historic opportunity to train mighty young men and women of God for his service. We have a great opening to bring to faith and train a generation that has no hope for this life so that they can wholeheartedly live for Christ.
These are brave young people who are not afraid of death. As one young Christian told me, “I am not afraid of death because I was dead anyway before I came to Christ.” Another said, “I am not afraid of them [the government]; in fact, they are afraid of me and my message. That is why they want to put me in jail.”
How You Can Help
Would you pray especially for those young people being tortured in prison and their families who are demonstrating outside, hoping to hear news of their loved ones?
Would you also pray for boldness among Christians in Iran, to use this unique opportunity to share Christ with many? As you may know, we have a large number of underground house churches in Iran and many leaders who are serving them. These leaders are already spreading the gospel without fear of what will happen to them. Pray that God would protect them and embolden others to do the same. Pray for open hearts to receive Christ.
My friend Mani Erfan predicted a year ago that Christians would make up 10 percent of Iran’s population by 2020. I believe that is quite possible. This new level of desperation and hopelessness expressed in these demonstrations indicates that millions more are open to the message of the gospel, and the number of Christians in Iran will continue to grow exponentially as it has the past 10 years.
Just imagine what would happen if we join together and equip, encourage, empower, and mobilize 2 million Christians for Christ.
And would you pray about contributing to a training initiative for Iran? We at Iran Alive are beginning a new 412 School, based on Ephesians 4:12, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” With this school, we can multiply our efforts to reach and disciple millions in Iran for the gospel. Just imagine what would happen if we join together and equip, encourage, empower, and mobilize 2 million Christians for Christ. I believe not only Iran but also the whole Middle East will be impacted by the gospel.
In this series, I have been addressing the spontaneous protests that began in Iran on December 28, 2017, in response to rising economic distress and the corrupt government. At least 22 people have been killed—likely a higher number is true—and a minimum of 1,000 arrested, most under the age of 25.
What is the goal of the protestors?
The demonstrators have no clear vision or clear demands. These demonstrations are the groans and pains of society. The people are crying out because they feel pressured economically and see no way out. They see social injustice and oppression and no hope for any better future.
We must remember that this uprising is not like a Western demonstration, where people fill the streets to protest an issue or stand up for a cause—and then go home. These Iranians know that they can be killed for protesting. Several have been killed already; thousands of others are under arrest.
The protestors’ hopelessness and frustration are so deep that they do not care anymore if they die.
Will violence and arrests stifle the uprising?
The demonstrations have no leadership that can guide them toward a common goal; they are just protesting out of pain, hopelessness, and desperation. Therefore, the movement is not coherent yet, and it has no clear direction to keep it going against repressive violence. So it is very likely that it will be stopped through upcoming violence.
When the uprising quiets down, will that be the end of it?
Even if the demonstrations quiet down, the divide between the people and the government will deepen. The movement will continue as an undercurrent that will show its head again later, stronger than before.
One thing is for sure: the people will no longer be deceived by the “moderate clergy candidate” political play by the clergy. This political show has kept the people entertained and busy for the past 20 years. It will not work any longer.
They may, however, be deceived by the offer of a “secular” or “nonreligious” candidate. This type of candidate will be a deception once again because the government always creates an illusion of change on the surface while doing nothing to change a system where the clergy and the Revolutionary Guards maintain the main economic, military, and political power. As an Iranian proverb says, “It is the same donkey, but the saddle is changed.”
What will result from the uprising, in the near future?
We will most likely see a surge of violence. Plainclothes mercenaries from Syria will shoot and kill hundreds on the streets just as they did in the 2009 uprising. Many young people will be arrested, tortured, or simply disappear. The University of Tehran is already trying to track some of its students who have disappeared.
The Supreme Leader, to appease the people, may blame the situation on a few people in government positions, order their arrest, put them on trial, and execute them. This way, he can show the people that he has heard them, cares for them, and is taking care of the problems of corruption and social injustice.
By eliminating these few, Khamenei will both appease the people and at the same time remove some of those who are causing him trouble. One of these potential figures is the ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has lately been causing some trouble for the power structure. His life may be in danger in the next few weeks and months. The government may blame this mess and corruption on him, arrest him, and put him on trial.
What is Iran Alive Doing?
Since the beginning of the protests, we have been broadcasting a special live program at noon CST (prime time in Iran) every day, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Our goals are to show that
God knows their pains, and so do we;
God cares about what they are going through, and so do we;
God has a plan for Iran and is active in the midst of this chaos and suffering, and we all need to align what we do with what he intends to do in Iran.
We teach them that to do the will of God, we need first to have the mind of God and the heart of God.
We know that Iran will be saved according to Jeremiah 49:38, and this is just another step towards that end.
Every day in our live program, we look at the events of the day from a biblical point of view.
We evangelize by telling people that they will be again disappointed if they put their hope once again in men.
We tell them that if they do not change, then even if the government changes, they will still be miserable.
We point out that if they have personal struggles, if they have marriage problems, and if they have an addiction, a change of government will not solve that. Their only hope is Jesus Christ, who can make a true and eternal change both in their lives and also in the society.
We also teach Christians to be salt and light in the midst of this darkness. They must be active in helping people who are suffering and at the same time share the gospel by telling others that only Jesus is the true solution to the problems in Iran.
How should we pray?
Many families have been torn apart. Many reports tell of people congregating around Evin Prison in Tehran, hoping to secure the release of family members. Some young people have been killed, and many have disappeared. Please pray for these young people and their families.
People are also suffering economic hardship, no longer able to buy milk, cheese, or eggs. Pray that they would come to know that God loves them and cares about their situation. Pray that the leaders in Iran will have compassion on their people and instead of treating them as thugs, accusing them of being CIA agents, and heartlessly killing them, that they would care for their felt needs.
This is a great time for Christians to shine. Pray that the 2 million Christians in Iran will reflect Christ’s character by their love and actions. Also pray they will bring true hope and lasting change to the lives of millions by sharing the gospel.
And finally, please pray for Iran Alive. God has graciously positioned us to have a tangible impact on at least 6 million people according to a recent poll. This is the number who watch us regularly and for whom we are their favorite channel. Pray that the Lord will give us wisdom and provide for us financially so that we can have maximum impact during this historic time in Iran.
Look for parts 4 and 5 of this series later this week.
The main cause for these demonstrations? The economic pain and desperation of the people. In the past six months, about 30 percent of our incoming prayer requests from Iran have been related to the economic situation. One of our viewers shared last week that she and her husband are so financially desperate that they were considering selling their three-month-old baby to human traffickers!
Basic Goods out of Reach for the People
In recent months, the price of some basic goods like dairy products, meat, eggs, and gas has risen sharply. For the past two years, many families in Iran had to cut their consumption of meat to once per month. Now they cannot even afford that. Forget meat; now they cannot afford milk, cheese, or eggs.
While the Corrupt Elite Enriches Itself
What makes the people’s pain worse and makes them even more angry and frustrated are the following realities:
The religious elite controls the economy. More than 85 percent of the economy is controlled by those in power (the clergy and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard). The people see this as the elite taking advantage of the common people so even though they are rich, they can be richer.
Corruption within the government continues freely. Every month the people hear news of large embezzlement by those within the government—but no arrests or accountability. While common people continue to suffer, those in power steal the oil income and store it in foreign banks. They steal instead of investing that money in the country’s economy because maybe they also see that their end is near.
The powerful live in luxurious abundance. Daily, the people see the elite living in luxury homes and driving luxury cars—more Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Maserati’s travel the streets in Tehran than in Beverly Hills.
More than a quarter of the country is unemployed. The unemployment stated by the government is 12 percent, but in reality, more than 25 percent are unemployed. Unemployment among young adults is as high as 40 percent. Noticeable segments of society in their 30s and even 40s are educated (often highly) but have no jobs—not even low-level jobs such as driving taxis. They still live with their parents, cannot find jobs, and cannot get married. They battle a hopelessness with deep depression that they often relieve temporarily with some addiction. Most families in Iran are impacted by addiction because at least one close family member (father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister) is addicted. Unemployment and addiction are prime causes for people being on the streets, the majority of these people being under 30 years old.
The children of the elite “inherit” the best paying jobs. The people have seen that those in power have the best paying jobs—and now the elite are passing on these jobs to their kids, a generation of spoiled children with no education. Children of the powerful receive a job without earning it while millions with education cannot make a living.
The Islamic government cares more for supporting regional allies than its own people. The people now see that the Islamic government has no heart for the suffering of its own but spends millions of dollars monthly to help Hezbollah in Lebanon and President Assad in Syria. They know that the government is spending large sums of money to take control of Yemen and Iraq. They were hoping that the $150 billion that Obama administration gave Iran’s government would benefit them, but as I predicted in 2015 and again in 2016, the windfall did not benefit them but was used instead to oppress them and persecute Christians even more.
What Can You Do?
Throughout this time of unrest, we have broadcast live every evening during prime time to share God’s heart and mind with the people. They are crying out in pain and looking for answers. Would you pray that millions will hear and receive God’s love and concern for their suffering?
In the next few days, I will be posting more on this issue. I will let you know what I expect will be the outcome of this mass demonstration, what the differences are between this uprising and the Green Movement of 2009, and yes, how this uprising will help Christians and the cause of Christ in Iran—at least for the short term.
If you wish to read more stories and stay up to date on issues in Iran and with our ministry at Iran Alive, please text “Iran” to 74784.