Background and consequences of protests in Iran: A look from within

Hassan Rouhani

By Amir Delshad

Two weeks after the eruption of protests in Iran due to the rise in petrol prices, the unrests may have subsided but discontent is still on the rise, like the clam before the storm which may erupt once more in the not so distant future.

Without prior notice, petrol prices were increased in Iran at midnight on Friday November 15. The price of rationed petrol rose by 50 percent and free petrol by 300 percent. From the afternoon of that very same day, protests began in small towns and the poorer areas of larger cities, reaching a zenith on Saturday.

Based on official reports, 28 out of 31 Iranian provinces and over 100 cities were engulfed by protests. To counter the situation, the government disconnected the internet on a national level to prevent the protesters from using social media. According to the Minister of the Interior, Rahmani-Fazli, over fifty military posts were attacked, 731 banks, 140 public spaces, 70 petrol stations, 307 private cars, and 183 military vehicles were set on fire.

The exact number of people who lost their lives is not clear. Amnesty International has reported 143 deaths during the unrests; but this has been denied by Iran. Even so, Iranian officials have confirmed that the protests were the most widespread and violent the country had experienced in recent years. The spokesperson for the Iranian Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, Naghavi-Hosseini, placed the number of arrests at over 7,000.

Iranian authorities have announced that bank arsons and unrests were the work of insurgents, counter-revolutionaries, and the enemies of Iran. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has even reported the arrest of CIA agents involved in the protests. Although the opposition in exile, such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization and supporters of the ousted Pahlavi monarchy, may be attempting to exploit popular protests, the fact that people are not satisfied with the current economic situation cannot be denied.

Reasons for petrol price rises

The Iranian government has cited social justice and help for the lower-income classes, as well as controlling petrol consumption and imports, and environmental issues as the main reasons for the hike in petrol prices. It announced that it will use the resulting income to credit the accounts of 60 million people from Iran’s 84 million strong population on a monthly basis.

However, most economic experts have opposed the plan. They believe the lower-income brackets could have received government help through increased taxes on higher income brackets. Iranian economist, Mahmoud Jamsaz, said that government policies have led to the collapse of the middle classes and there is now a rich minority and a poor majority in Iran.

Famous Iranian sociologist, Emad Afrough, has also said: “From a sociopolitical viewpoint, we no longer have a middle class. We have a ruling class that decides, and a large lower class that has to obey.”

Even those economists who agree with petrol price rises believe that this should have been implemented step by step with a maximum price increase of 20 percent per year. Most experts believe that the plan has been carried out to offset the government deficit given the drop in oil sales, restrictions on other exports, and foreign currency earnings; although, the Iranian government strongly rejects this.

Impacts on domestic policies

The rise in petrol prices has eroded what little social capital Rouhani had left. The hardliners called this an imprudence by the government and began to exploit it to weaken the moderates. Hence, it seems that in the next Iranian parliamentary elections due in March, hardliners and conservatives will be the winners.

The decision-making approach to the price rise has also been criticized by some lawyers and lawmakers, because it was taken by an organ which has no place in the Iranian Constitution and was formed by the Supreme Leader of the Revolution a few weeks after the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.

The Supreme Council for Economic Coordination of the three branches headed by the president, parliament speaker, and head of the judiciary approved the plan which was endorsed by the Supreme Leader; whereas, such decisions must be ratified by Parliament. Thus, this shows the discrediting of parliament and a departure from processes and democratic and transparent decision-making.

Impact on nuclear negotiations

The eruption of protests and unrests in Iran must have led the U.S. administration to conclude that maximum pressure is working and its continuation will bring Iran to its knees. Inebriated with the protests, they are further distancing themselves from any negotiations. Be that as it may, it is a mistake to conclude the undisputed surrender of the proud leaders of Iran to the U.S.

After reducing the unrests, the Supreme Leader of Iran pointed out in a speech that “Both friends and foes should know that we have repelled the enemy in the war in military, political and security issues. The recent actions were security issues, not from the people. We have repelled the enemy in various areas, and by God’s grace, we will also definitely repel the enemy in the economic war.”

Regardless of the outcome of this war, what is clear is that the parties are far from diplomacy. Even the EU seems to be moving closer to the U.S. camp.

What will be the future of the protests?

Although the security forces were able to squelch the protests far more violently than previously, dissatisfaction is higher and the impact of petrol prices on other goods may add fuel to the fire and unrests may erupt once again intensely and more widespread.

The government has stressed that the price of other goods will not rise. But economics and existing evidence say otherwise. Urban transportation and, consequently, fruit prices have risen as we speak and it is possible that other goods and services will follow suit.

While protesters in the aftermath of the 2009 elections were predominantly the urban middle classes, the base of recent protesters, as well as the December 2017 protesters, were mostly the lower-income classes and the unemployed youth living on the margins of cities. This is very dangerous for the Iranian establishment, as the latter have nothing to lose and no prospects of improving their lives in terms of employment and welfare.

Yet, lack of leadership among the protesters, the absence of a potential alternative to the current Iranian system, lack of a strategic goal among the protesters, a fear of civil war and total infrastructural collapse among the people, and the use of extreme force and range of methods by the establishment to crush the protests does not currently provide the prospects for regime change.

Amir Delshad is a freelance journalist in Iran.

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  1. FYI,
    You’re right I don’t the people today because they have changed! I’ve seen the best of Iranians 50 years ago with a corrupt leadership at the top! But at least very few of the government workers in the city halls, Counties, governorships and central government offices were corrupt. But something did change the people? Perhaps the millions of people, as you’ve mentioned, are trying to compete with many corrupt people in the position of power. As result the average persons, millions!, on street are becoming corrupt to the core! Perhaps the people have gotten a wrong impression of the “motto” of “mofsed-fel-arz!

  2. Monty

    The way I see it the decision and execution of Gas price hike was well calculated and planed inside the SNSC. Everybody including world bank agrees that Iran had to cut fuel subsides and increase the fuel price to prevent smuggling of cheap subsidized Iranian gas and to distribute the gains to more needy. It was not difficult to guess for the Iranian government leaders and the security establishment to know , especially with all austerity economic protests going on around the world including France and past protest in Iran, many people will come out and protest the 50% price hike. And it is not hidden that the American and their Israeli Saudi and European allies have publicly encouraged protest in Iran, and Iranian security establishment for sure and with experience knew that their enemies are prepared to use a “public dispute, a sharp division, disagreement in society ” (base for a color revolution) to make the protest bloody and out of control of Iranian security establishments, they knew the Americans and compony are waiting for the Maidan moment to take the control of the Maidan. With all that in mind, the Iranian government still went ahead and hiked a price by 50% and without prior announcement, why and what was the benefit? First, it was necessary to do and was a healthy thing to do for the sanctioned economy. Two if they could manage to keep the control at minimum damage to the country they could pull out the sleeping moles, see their faces and identify some networks of American paid (Brian Hook body’s)terror cells inside Iran another “Gando” security moment, sort of a preventive strike at the enemy. Third, if executed with minimal cost and in limited time this will show the Americans and Trump that the Iranian government is the one who can bring the people out and keep the control of events which they did, and not his sanctions. To do this the key was to surprise the enemy, that is why it was not pre announced or done in stages, if the enemy, the Americans knew in advance Iran is raising its fuel price (like during elections) they would have prepared their terror cells inside and outside of Iran, and made it more difficult for Iranian security to keep control. Main element in a war is surprise, Iran was prepared in advance to shut down the outside internet to minimize incoming commands and agitations to steer up the riots inside Iran. IMO, Mr. Hook once again got it up his ar*e.

  3. Now that the American side has been surprised not being able to get the hold of Iran’ protest ( losing The Maidan Moment) after a weak they have started their usual media propaganda demonizing Iran for being Brutal, hoping the propaganda message will move the people inside Iran. Per my 20 years listening to this routine it will die down in few days and the regular god cop bad cop degrading will continue. They are full of it and have no better techniques/tactics.

  4. For Mr. Hook to learn here is a Iranian proverb that matches what happened on Iranian protest. “keeping hands in front, will prevent falling on your back”

  5. KOOSHY,
    Thanks for your common sense perspective. May be that was/is the reason for the US media and Hooky were silent for the past 2-3 weeks. Their plan failed again!!

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