Iran is currently being stirred by growing protests mainly over economic stagnation clutching the country.
This nothing entirely new. Between 2017–2018 Iran passed through a somewhat similar situation on an even larger scale. A series of public protests erupted in various cities throughout Iran more or less at the same time of the year in 2017 and continuing into 2018. The first protest stemmed from the economic policies of the country’s government, but then spread into political opposition to the theocratic regime of Iran and its long time Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
These current protests were spurred by the hike in petrol prices introduced to blunt the effects of crippling US sanctions on the country’s economy.
The unrest seems to also be driven by widespread dismay over the ailing state of Iran’s economy, in which jobs are increasingly scarce.
And there doesn’t seem to be much improvement on the horizon: the IMF warns taht Iran’s economy is already in “severe distress” and set to contract by 9.5 percent this year as it struggles under the weight of the sanctions.
On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader appears to be in denial in the face of internal crisis. Ali Khamenei claimed that protests in recent days were an “intelligence operation” not “popular protests”.
However, he also said that U.S. sanctions will continue for the foreseeable future and that Iran should not hope for an end to the sanctions or an end to Donald Trump’s presidency to save its economy.
At the same time, Khamenei’s position blocked any possibility of some sort of compromise.
By publicly endorsing the decision of President Hassan Rouhani’s government to ration petrol and raise the price at the pumps, Khamenei has effectively eliminated any chance of the government backing down.
Iranian authorities now have only one of two options left: resort to excessive force and deal roughly with protesters in Iranian towns and cities or adopt a combination of gentle and excessive force.
The world is keeping a close eye on what is happening in Tehran. Iran’s allies and friends want to be reassured about its domestic stability as the base upon which they can lean. Its collapse may lead to the fall of others in the region.
It’s enemies, on the other hand, sense an opportunity to weaken the country and besiege its regime if not actually overthrow it altogether, as they would really like. And this could potentially be accomplished without firing a single shot.
Tonio Galea – CiConsulta Geopolitics Analyst and Editor CorporateDispatch.com