New protests in Iran over rial crash

A man withdraws Iranial rials from an automated teller machine in Tehran on July 31, 2018. (AFP / ATTA KENARE)
Updated 03 August 2018
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New protests in Iran over rial crash

  • Iranian currency now trading at a rate of more than 120,000 to the dollar
  • Iranian police have been busy breaking up protest rallies across the country lately

JEDDAH: Fresh protests broke out in several Iranian cities on Thursday amid growing concern and anger over the dramatic drop in the value of the country’s currency, and other economic problems, ahead of the impending imposition of renewed American sanctions.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said that about 100 people took to the streets in the northern city of Sari, as well as unspecified numbers in Shiraz, Ahvaz and Mashhad. The agency reported that none of the protests had received official permission and were broken up by police.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 200 people demonstrated in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, according to IRNA. Police said the demonstrators had attempted to damage public buildings but were unable to, the agency reported without giving any further details.

In videos that circulated on social media, purportedly filmed in the town of Gohardasht, a suburb of Karaj, dozens of demonstrators can be seen in the streets setting fire to police vehicles and shouting “Death to the dictator.” Police responded with tear gas. The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.

The Iranian rial has fallen to a record low amid growing concern about the renewed American sanctions, which are due to take effect on Monday.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the protests were steadily growing and spreading.

“The very dire social conditions underlying the unrest that led to the Iranian revolution in 1979 seem to be very much in play today,” he said. “The fact that much of these protests are taking place both in major towns and villages in the countryside is a major concern for the leadership in Tehran.”

He said any kind of economic bailout is unlikely given the imminent international sanctions Iran is facing.

“This means that Iran’s energy exports are not likely to offer the desperately needed economic windfall that Tehran needs to stem the hemorrhaging of its currency and rapidly rising inflation,” said Shahbandar. “The ensuing political and social instability will undoubtedly crescendo into an existential crisis for (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei’s rule if popular demands for reform are not met in earnest.”

Harvard scholar Majid Rafizadeh, an expert on Iranian affairs, said the protests were the continuation of a nationwide anti-government movement that began in late December.

“The latest unrest broke out in the major cities of Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz, Rasht and Tabriz, and are rapidly spreading across Iran,” he said. 

“Many of the protesters initially took to the streets to express outrage over an ongoing crisis of unemployment and currency devaluation but the demonstrations quickly took on a political tone, with calls for the ouster of the Iranian government.”

Rafizadeh said that the value of the Iranian rial hit a record low on Wednesday, trading at a rate of more than 120,000 to the dollar.

“The protests that erupted the following day made it clear that the Iranian people place the blame for their economic hardships squarely on the mismanagement and corruption of the ruling regime,” he said. “Unless the Iranian regime addresses people’s grievances and alters its policies fundamentally, the protests, which are of a political and economic nature, will more than likely continue to grow and potentially endanger the hold on power of the Iranian regime.”


Saudi Arabia: Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

Updated 8 min 5 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia: Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

  • UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."
  • Tony Blair insists to Jared Kushner that there must be a two-state solution

MANAMA: Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said Wednesday the Kingdom will support whatever economic plan will bring prosperity to the Palestinians.

Speaking on the second day of an international conference on a US initiative to improve the economic plight of Gaza and the West Bank, Al-Jadaan said he was “very, very optimistic” about the plan. 

“The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope and we and our colleagues share the view that whatever brings prosperity to this region, we will support it,” he said, alongside US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin and the Bahraini and Emirati finance ministers.

“We have been a great supporter of Palestine for decades … so its not something we are going to shy away from and we will continue supporting the Palestinians,” Al-Jadaan added.

The initiative was outlined by Donald Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday as the conference in Bahrain got under way. The $50 billion economic formula would see investment in infrastructure, tourism and education.

Palestinian leaders have accused the plan of legitimising Israel’s occupation of their territory and for being secondary to a political resolution to the conflict. But on the second day of the conference, both Arab and western political leaders, ministers and  business chiefs discussed what needed to be done to make the plan work.

Al-Jadaan said the plan was a “great opportunity” and that there was a “significant international commitment” to support the people of Palestine to bring prosperity and opportunities.

“You need political commitment, you need clear transparency, you need predictability for the private sector to join, you need the rule of law … and you want to make sure that there is proper governance in place,” he said. 

The UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."

Earlier, Jared Kushner discussed the initiative with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who insisted there still must be a two-state solution to the conflict. The White House has not said it backs the principle, and the political element of its plan has not yet been revealed.

"It's absolutely foolish to believe you can have economics without sound politics, but it's likewise completely futile to think politics will work without economics buttressing it," Blair told the gathering.

The foreign minister of Bahrain also reiterated the need for a two-state solution but said the plan was an "opportunity not to be missed".

"I think if we take this matter seriously it could be a very important game-changer," Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said.

In an earlier panel, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas said the initiative “will definitely require a lot of work but it is definitely achievable.”

Bahrain’s Labor Market CEO Osama Al-Absi, told the panel, entitled Empowering the People, “we must look at how post-war economies were built” in order to make the plan work.

International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said generating economic growth in conflict-riven countries can be a struggle.

The IMF puts unemployment at 30 percent in the West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza, which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades and recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas' rival in the Israeli-occupied West bank.

"Gaza right now is feeling a lot of pain because of bad leadership and the sanctions that have been imposed on them because of it," Kushner said. "So the question that (Hamas)leadership has to ask themselves is...do they hate their neighbour in Israel more than they love their citizens and their people?"

The 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects in the plan include a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, which has been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.

Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari, chairman of the Palestinian Business Network, told the gathering it is difficult to build an economy with a "siege and unstable situation".

"Frankly, we demand an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967," said the businessman from Hebron who has co-founded a trade group to boost business between Palestinians and Israeli settlers."

*With Reuters