Iranians’ anti-regime anger not limited to the economy

Iranians’ anti-regime anger not limited to the economy

Some policy analysts and news outlets have been characterizing the Iranian people’s disaffectedness with the political establishment as a result of economic hardship. It goes without saying that economic austerity is a critical factor behind people’s frustration with the theocratic regime, but arguing that this is the sole reason for the discontent is simplified and unsophisticated, and fails to accurately describe the nature of people’s dissatisfaction with the regime.

If one meticulously examines the social, religious, political and economic landscapes in Iran, it becomes evident that the reasons behind the widespread unhappiness are multi-faceted. 

First of all, many people are indeed suffering financially. For the last 10 years, Iran’s unemployment rate has been in the double digits. Although Iran has an educated youth population, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the population, almost 30 percent of them were without jobs in the fourth quarter of 2017. Also, more than 40 percent of the population, which is approximately 32 million citizens, live below the poverty line. 

Even those who are lucky enough to have a job are still struggling to make ends meet. The average rent exceeds the salaries many full-time workers earn, let alone other basic necessities such as food, medicine, transportation, school fees, etc. Darioush, a full-time teacher who has been working in public schools in Tehran for more than 10 years, pointed out: “The average teacher’s salary is around IR12,000,000 ($250) a month. The rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Tehran is about IR20,000,000 a month. A normal doctor visit will cost you about IR1,100,000 (approximately 10 percent of the salary).” 

But this is not the whole story. People’s disenchantment includes a religious character because many people do not want to have a Shiite theocracy imposing its extremist beliefs and teachings on society. In other words, the targets are the ruling mullahs, and that is why protesters have been attacking religious seminaries, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency. 

Although Iran has an educated youth population, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the population, almost 30 percent of them were without jobs in the fourth quarter of 2017

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Young men and women have been demonstrating their resistance to the regime’s religious laws by defying the state’s rules through various platforms in both public and private spheres. Movements or actions, such as taking off headscarves in public or dancing, do not mean that ordinary people dislike religion, but they are different modes of resistance against Iran’s theocracy. 

In addition, there exists a human rights dimension, which is clear by the role that human rights activists, defenders and lawyers have been playing in disclosing violations in the country. The Islamic Republic remains one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. The situation is continuing to worsen, even under the leadership of the so-called moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani. The Iranian regime is responsible for carrying out more than half of all executions in the world, according to the latest report by international human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which is based in the UK. Surpassing China, Tehran is ranked top in the world when it comes to the number of executions per capita. 

More recently, the regime’s forces have escalated their crackdown and suppression of the people due to nationwide protests. The judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps wield significant power in Iran and thousands have been arrested and imprisoned without due process, and many have also been killed. Amnesty International last week released a statement demanding the release of all detainees, stating that: “Reports and videos on social media have also shown the use of unnecessary and excessive force by security forces to disperse demonstrations.” Instead of releasing the detainees, the Iranian leaders threatened that protesters and dissidents could face the death penalty. 

Finally, the political nature of people’s dissatisfaction with the regime should not be disregarded. People are robustly opposing authoritarianism and despotism. That is why many were risking their lives when they chanted “Death to Khamenei” — a crime that can be punishable with the death penalty in Iran. Many others chanted “Death to Rouhani,” “Death to the Islamic Republic,” “Shame on you Khamenei, step down from power,” and “Death to the Dictator.” People are risking their lives by continuing to tear down the banners of Iran’s Supreme Leaders, Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei. 

In addition, many people appear to vehemently stand against the regime’s foreign policies, as they made the following chants popular in the country: “Forget about Palestine, forget about Gaza, think about us,” “Death to Hezbollah,” and “Leave Syria alone, think about us instead.” 

In summary, what highlights the complexity of Iran’s crisis is that the Iranian people’s disenchantment with the regime is not solely due to economic reasons, but also due to political, social, human rights, and religious factors. 

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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