Violent protests grip major Iranian cities over gas price rise 

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The demonstrations took place in over a dozen cities in the hours following President Rouhani’s decision at midnight on Friday to cut gasoline subsidies. (AFP )
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People stop their cars on a highway to protest against increased gas price in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019. (Reuters)
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Riot police tries to disperse people as they protest on a highway against increased gas price in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019. (Reuters)
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Riot police tries to disperse people as they protest on a highway against increased gas price in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019. (Reuters)
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People protest against increased gas price, on a highway in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 17 November 2019

Violent protests grip major Iranian cities over gas price rise 

  • One protester was killed in the central city of Sirjan, where people tried to set fire to a fuel depot
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted in support of protests in Iran

TEHRAN: Protesters angered by Iran raising government-set gasoline prices by 50 percent blocked traffic in major cities and occasionally clashed with police on Saturday after a night of demonstrations punctuated by gunfire, in violence that reportedly killed at least one person.

The death occurred in the central city of Sirjan, where people tried to set fire to a fuel depot but were thwarted by security forces including police, the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

The protests put renewed pressure on Iran’s government as it struggles to overcome the US sanctions strangling the country after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Though largely peaceful, demonstrations devolved into violence in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing tear gas at protesters and mobs setting fires. 

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard educated Iranian-American political scientist, told Arab News that the Islamic Republic appears to be scrambling to compensate for the loss of revenues that it is encountering due to a major decline in the regime’s oil exports. “US sanctions on the country have exerted significant pressure on the ruling clerics.”

He said: “Tehran is desperate to generate revenue, in order to fund its military interests in the wider region and support its proxies everywhere from Yemen to Lebanon. 

“It is important to point out that the current protests in Iran are expression of broad frustration with the clerical regime.  While representing a political risk for President Hassan Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, it also shows the widespread anger among Iran’s 80 million people who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the national rial currency’s collapse.
 

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The demonstrations took place in over a dozen cities in the hours following Rouhani’s decision at midnight Friday to cut gasoline subsidies to fund handouts for Iran’s poor. 

Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50 percent up from the day before. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the US costs $2.60 by comparison.

Iran imposed petrol rationing and raised pump prices by at least 50 percent on Friday, saying the move was aimed at helping citizens in need with cash handouts. 

President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that currently 75 percent of Iranians were “under pressure” and the extra revenues from the petrol price hike would go to them, and not the treasury.

Rouhani had tried to hike fuel prices in December but was blocked by parliament in the wake of protests that rocked Iran for days.The speaker at the time ruled out the move as unpopular and said it was “not in the interests of the country.”

The rationing and price hike come at a sensitive time as Iran prepares for a parliamentary election in February.

The measure was expected to bring in $2.55 billion per annum, the head of the country’s Planning and Budget Organization, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, said on state television.

About 60 million Iranians in need would get payments ranging from $4.68 for couples to slightly more than $17.46 for families with five members or more, he said.

Under the scheme, drivers with fuel cards will pay 13 US cents a liter for the first 60 liters of petrol bought each month, with each additional liter costing them 71 US cents.

But in a nation where many get by as informal taxi drivers, cheap gasoline is considered a birthright. Iran is home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves. While expected for months, the decision still caught many by surprise and sparked immediate demonstrations overnight.
 

Violence broke out Friday night in Sirjan, a city some 800 km southeast of Tehran. The state-run IRNA news agency said “protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot, but they were stopped by police.” 

It did not elaborate, but online videos circulating on Iranian social media purported to show a fire at the depot as sirens wailed in the background. Another showed a large crowd shouting: “Rouhani, shame on you! Leave the country alone!”

Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, an Interior Ministry official in Sirjan, later told state television that police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire, wounding several.

It was a “calm gathering” that was exploited by some who “destroyed public property, damaged fuel stations and also wanted to access the oil company’s main fuel depots and set fire to them,” he said.

Besides Sirjan, “scattered” protests were also held on Friday in other cities including Abadan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Birjand, Gachsaran, Khoramshahr, Mahshahr, Mashhad and Shiraz, state news agency IRNA said.

But they were mostly limited to blocking traffic and were over by midnight, IRNA reported.

Fresh demonstrations were held on Saturday in the cities of Doroud, Garmsar, Gorgan, Ilam, Karaj, Khoramabad, Mehdishahr, Qazvin, Qom, Sanandaj, Shahroud and Shiraz, IRNA said.

“Some drivers have protested the new petrol price by turning off their cars and creating traffic jams,” the official news agency added.


Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.