The governor of the Iranian province of Lorestan has been assaulted after delivering a speech warning that illiberalism is a “dangerous danger” to the world, saying: “If the Zionist regime (Israel) attacked us, there would be nothing to defend.”
Nader Tabatabai was also filmed slapping a supporter of the hardline Islamic Republic party (Majlis-e Souriyehyeh) in the face during an event on the sidelines of an urban agriculture conference in his province.
“Tolerating terrorism and despotism … is like giving a gun to thugs,” said Tabatabai as protesters, chanting “The enemy is in our front and our resistance is in the front”, hurled projectiles at the stage as if firing an automatic weapon.
The governor, a member of President Hassan Rouhani’s reformist-backed Islamic republic party, denounced the protesters as traitors to Islam.
“Every person who poses himself as a representative of Islam in public can only be a traitor to Islam,” he said. “I said that we should accept common enemy but if we don’t stop acting like idiots we can’t win the battle.”
He said in a later speech that he would not name and shame protesters but be more critical of pro-government columnists.
Tabloid Sherkat reported on Tuesday that Tabatabai had said in an earlier speech on 26 May that: “If the Zionist regime, or any tyrant regime for that matter, comes after us, there will be nothing to defend.”
Tabatabai later confirmed in another interview with the IRIB news agency that he made the comments.
In a video of his speech, Tabatabai said that despite the recent bloody protests in the streets of Tehran, Iran is not experiencing a civil war but instead a “revolution of the people”. He said that militants were “enabling people’s revolution”.
“Many foreign entities, with different motives, are financing, arming and sometimes killing young people and some people are among them, and it is up to us to confront it,” he said.
Rouhani has said that free speech is a pillar of the constitution, but has called on the judiciary to deal with anti-government protesters who also threw stones, smoke bombs and chunks of concrete at pro-government supporters in Tehran.
In a meeting with a high-ranking police delegation last week, the president said he hoped people did not resort to “invented laws” to settle differences in the street.
Rouhani also criticised politicians in the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s main internal military force, for their tacit role in what has been a bloody week of street clashes.
Protesters have taken to the streets across Iran to denounce economic hardships, corruption and mistreatment of women.
Majlis-e Souriyehyeh have called a meeting on Friday to discuss the unrest, but some pro-government figures have even accused Tehran’s urban poor of being “capitalists” and “bourgeois”.
The government has vowed to crack down on those who are trying to foment instability.
Rouhani’s government has also said the government could reconsider its nuclear policy after outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to scrap a deal agreed with world powers, if it thought the future of its atomic programme was under threat.