Indicators point to imminent new uprising in Iran
All the social, political and economic indicators in Iran point to the likelihood of another major uprising and looming protests.
One of the most important parameters is the economy, particularly how it is affecting people’s living standards. Economically speaking, life has become unbearable for many ordinary people in Iran. Unemployment and inflation are at or near record highs and the cost of living continues to rise.
The Islamic Parliament Research Center in June reported that the poverty-line income for a four-member household in Iran has, over the last two years, increased from 25 million rials a month to 45 million, while the International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation will be 34.2 percent this year.
While many people’s wages have remained unchanged, the value of the Iranian currency has significantly decreased. The rial has lost about 56 percent of its value so far in 2020, making it one of the least valuable national currencies in the world. As of last week, the rial was trading on unofficial markets at 304,300 to the US dollar. Throughout the last two years, the currency has plummeted in value. As a result, the Iranian authorities in May agreed to remove four zeros from the currency. The falling value of the rial has inevitably increased demand for US dollars and gold.
Even Iran’s state-controlled Persian newspapers have begun warning the regime. For example, the Arman daily last month wrote: “A glance at what we witnessed in forms of protests in recent years shows that these protests started in areas where people are suffering from poverty and have difficulties earning their living wages. The economic pressure that lower social classes endure is unbearable. We should be careful that they do not lose their tolerance because this could have social and security consequences (for the state).”
The underlying factors behind Tehran’s economic crises are ingrained in its political and financial institutions.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The regime itself is also encountering one of the worst economic years in its four-decade rule, partly due to US sanctions and the decline in oil exports they have enforced. The situation is most likely to get worse. Although the other permanent members of the UN Security Council in August opposed a US bid to impose further pressure on the Iranian regime by triggering snapback sanctions, this move nevertheless put further pressure on Tehran.
Prominent cleric Saeed Lavasani, the head of Friday prayers in Lavasan, acknowledged the negative impact of the US move: “Activation of the trigger mechanism means the defeat and complete death of the (nuclear deal), which means the path that we went for seven years and put all the facilities of the nation on it, now we must return that way. The mechanism of the Security Council is such that it allows the United States to take such an action, which, although China and Russia have formally opposed it, implicitly acknowledges that a new legal challenge is emerging in the Security Council that will lead to long discussions. Of course, it is not in our interest.”
However, it is important to point out that Iran’s soaring inflation and crumbling economy has not only been caused by US sanctions, as some policy analysts, scholars and politicians suggest. The underlying factors are ingrained in Tehran’s political and financial institutions, which are the country’s backbone. In other words, it is the widespread corruption within the theocratic establishment and across the political spectrum; the mismanagement of the economy by the leadership; embezzlement and money laundering within the banking system; and the hemorrhaging of the nation’s wealth on militias, terror groups and proxies across the region that are the major factors contributing to the crisis.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its affiliates, the Office of the Supreme Leader, and the regime’s cronies are also responsible because they control considerable parts of the economy and financial systems. The IRGC controls about half of Iran’s gross domestic and owns several major economic powerhouses and religious endowments, such as Astan Quds Razavi in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
In addition to the dire economic situation many ordinary people are facing, the regime’s social and political suppression is adding to their fury. Human rights violations, arrests, torture, executions, imprisonments, and the suppression of the freedoms of speech and expression are at record highs. The Ebtekar newspaper even wrote a warning message to the politicians and clergy last month: “The social and national challenges have become so diverse and massive that any justification or trick can no longer conceal them. There is an inefficiency (lack of ambiguous plans and goals) of macro-management, which is the bedrock of all kinds of social and national challenges without prospects. Thus, we could safely say that a ‘fundamental national issue or concern’ in no way matters for politicians, officials, clergymen, and those seeking power.”
In summary, life has become unbearable for many people in Iran. The sociopolitical, religious and economic landscapes suggest that a major widespread uprising will most likely hit the theocratic establishment soon.
* Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh