Storekeepers join truckers’ strike as Iran unrest grows

In this June 25, 2018 photo, Iranian protesters gather at Mobile market in Tehran to protest against the worsening economic crisis. (AFP file photo)
Updated 11 October 2018

Storekeepers join truckers’ strike as Iran unrest grows

  • Bazaars shuttered in 50 cities in protest at collapsing economy
  • Iranian authorities have arrested more than 200 striking truck drivers and accused them of being “bandits”

JEDDAH: Store operators in bazaars across Iran have joined a strike by truck drivers as civil unrest grows in the face of a collapsing economy.

The protest by merchants began in the city of Shiraz and spread rapidly to more than 50 cities in 21 provinces.

Photos posted online by opposition activists showed shops with their shutters pulled down during normal working hours in Karaj, 50 km west of Tehran. Stores were also closed in Tabriz, Isfahan, Ardabil and the southern city of Qeshm.

The merchants are protesting against rising prices, the declining value of the Iranian rial and other economic grievances.

They have joined truck drivers in 300 Iranian cities who have been on strike for nearly three weeks in protest at low wages and the soaring cost of spare parts for their vehicles, especially tires.

Again, videos and photos posted online showed factories in Fars Province forced to load goods onto small pick-up trucks because of the drivers’ strike, and trucks were parked idle in loading terminals in Doroud in Lorestan province after truckers and tanker drivers refused to work, the US-based opposition website Iran News Wire reported.

Iranian authorities have arrested more than 200 striking truck drivers and accused them of being “bandits.” A court in Qazvin province has demanded the death penalty for 17 of those detained, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

At the heart of the civil unrest is a collapsing economy after US President Donald Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, and reimposed economic sanctions in August. Further sanctions targeting Iran’s oil trade come into effect on Nov. 4.

“The truck drivers’ protests are an extension of other demonstrations and uprisings that have been taking place throughout the year,” the Iranian-American Harvard scholar Dr. Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News.

“Much of the Iranian population is facing dire economic conditions. This misalignment between their fortunes and those of the Iranian regime has contributed to the sentiments expressed in the latest protests. Many of the thousands of demonstrators blame the regime’s political and financial corruption, support for foreign militia groups, mismanagement of public funds, and military adventurism across the region for a significant portion of the hardships they are facing.

“It is also important to point out that the protesters decry economic mismanagement, but also express broader political frustrations with the theocratic establishment.”

One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 18 October 2018

One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.