Protests spread to Iranian cities

Protests spread to Iranian cities

Iranian protesters block a road during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the central city of Shiraz on November 16, 2019. (AFP)

Iran has become the scene of widespread protests and demonstrations, having first erupted in Ahvaz and spread to many other cities including the capital Tehran. 

The protesters are angered over the regime’s decision to unexpectedly increase gasoline prices by 50 percent. Some protesters blocked the Mullah Thani expressway and were heard shouting “Gasoline has become more expensive, the poor have become poorer,” and “dignified Ahvazis, switch off your cars.”

They also carried signs reading: “We will never again buy gasoline, one hand does make much noise.” Protesters also blocked several roads by switching off car engines or leaving their vehicles in traffic.

The authorities have responded with aggression. Security forces attacked demonstrators and at least one person has been killed, with several injured. 

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.

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. According to the latest reports, US sanctions have forced Iran to cut funds to its militias in Syria, making it extremely difficult for them to continue fighting. 

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.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

A militant with an Iranian-backed group in Syria told the New York Times: “The golden days are gone and will never return. Iran doesn’t have enough money to give us.” 

Feeling the pressure of the sanctions, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has been calling on his group’s fundraising arm “to provide the opportunity for jihad with money and help with this ongoing battle.”

Iran is also facing strategic challenges in Iraq and Lebanon from protests against the leaderships of both, backed by Tehran, which have crossed long-established political and religious divides.

It is important to point out that the current protests in Iran are expression of broad frustration with the clerical regime. 

The economic situation has become dire for much of the Iranian population. The prices of basic necessities are skyrocketing, and many people are jobless. This is not because people do not have skills — Iran has an educated youth population, but almost 30 percent of them cannot find jobs do to a shortage in labor demands. In some provinces, the unemployment rate is over 60 percent. According to an official representative of the regime’s Planning and Management Organization, “42 percent of unemployed people in Iran have a university degree, and huge sums of money have been spent on their education.” While an acceptable inflation rate around the world is about 2 percent, Iran’s is currently over 33 percent.

The political nature of these protests has been clear from the get-go, despite the rise in gasoline price lighting the fire. That is why people have been heard chanting for the regime to step aside.

People are angered by corruption, mismanagement, embezzlement, and money laundering.

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the main figures of the theocracy, have become a permanent fixture in the protestors’ slogans. Throughout Rouhani’s more than six years as president, the Iranian public has been subject to an escalating crackdown, involving mass arrests of activists, journalists, partygoers, and other advocates of a liberal society. 

Also of concern is the vast expenditure of Iranian wealth on foreign conflicts and in support of terrorist proxies. Some protestors, at great risk to themselves, have been heard chanting: “Let go of Syria, think of us.” The Iranian regime allocates a significant portion of its budget to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Clearly, the public is fed up that they are being prioritized.

The Iranian people are not only protesting economic mismanagement, but also expressing much broader political frustration with the direction of the theocracy.

  • 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. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

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