By Rohit Bhatachaarya
Years of political, social and economic turmoil have driven people to the streets in Iran. The largest outbreak of mass resentment since the 2009 Green Movement has resulted in a backlash from the Iranian regime, a gamut of opportunistic tweets from US President Donald Trump, and a scenario that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago—demonstrators rallying against the might of Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Police clashes and undying protests
The protests have continued thus far for three consecutive days, having begun in the north-eastern city of Mashhad on Thursday, before spreading to other major towns on Friday. There have been clashes between students and police in the capital city of Tehran, where an initially small gathering soon swelled into thousands of demonstrators on Saturday.
Scores of Iranians were shot at during the protests on Saturday night, following a government-issued warning for citizens to not hold “illegal” public assemblies. Iran’s interior minister has also declared that the demonstrators will be held responsible. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IIRGC) have also threatened protestors with the nation’s “iron fist” if the political turmoil continues. The IIRGC is a vastly powerful force in Iran with ties to the Supreme Leader that was set up in 1979, after the Iranian Revolution. It was meant to uphold the nation’s Islamic system. However, in spite of the best efforts of the government and other agencies, the protests in Iran are showing no sign of dying down.
Rising prices and unemployment
Years of systemic economic mismanagement and rampant corruption has driven disenchanted Iranians to the streets. In the short term, the protests represent a cataclysmic reaction to an underwhelming economy, steep corruption and skyrocketing fuel and food prices. However, there is more to this story than what simply meets the eye.
Unilateral sanctions by the US have resulted in banks being wary of processing funds for Iran or providing credit to its firms, leading to a dearth of much-needed foreign investment. The 2015 deal enabled Iran to go back to selling its much-valued oil to international markets. However, with a lack of access to capital, it is struggling to produce the growth that the government had expected, causing severe economic shortcomings. With more than three million jobless Iranians, youth unemployment stands at about 40 percent, while the prices of basic food items such as poultry and eggs have inflated by almost half of its usual cost. Clearly, the benefits that the Iranians had hoped would arise from the nuclear deal have not manifested.
Call for an end to clerical rule
This new wave of protests in Iran is symbolic of a direct challenge to the rule of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There have been calls for his death or removal all over Iran, from Khoramabad and Zanjan to Ahvaz. In Abhar, protestors burnt massive banners portraying the Supreme Leader. Such vociferous rebellions against the clerical rule in Iran mark a new, unprecedented development in Iranian politics and societal discourse.
Local demonstrators feel that the present administration is more focused on foreign affairs instead of domestic issues. Slogans such as “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran”, were chanted at Masshad. Iran is a key military ally to the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria. It has also allegedly provided arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen fighting a Saudi-led coalition, which it denies, and is a supporter of Hezbollah, the powerful Shia movement in Lebanon.
Demands of protesters
A common factor binding the various protests in all regions across Iran is the strong demand for an end to the clerical rule in the country. In response to the nation’s economic problems, an Iranian vice president on Saturday said that the government would work towards solving the economic hardships of the people.
There is also a renewed drive among citizens to secure women’s rights. Women in Iran have been fighting for equal rights for several decades, but the movement has become stronger in recent years. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that while Iranians in 1979 wanted a revolution without democracy, today they desire a democracy without a revolution. In the face of an authoritarian government, a newly vibrant, youthful Iranian society is aspiring to become a more liberal, progressive nation.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius