Written by Hadi Gholami Nohouji exclusively for SouthFront
These past days Iran has been the scene of nationwide protests (although limited in scope and amount of people attending to them) which have in many cases lead to violence and to this day —according to Iran’s official statistics— have caused at least 21 deaths and have left a vast (and not specified) number of injured while hundreds have been detained.
The protests took everyone —both journalists inside Iran and outside and the Iranian authorities— by surprise while the world watched in awe the unexpected (or not?) events taking place in this middle eastern country that long has been an isle of stability in the midst of the mess that is the Middle East.
In this analysis I, as an Iranian journalist and someone who is currently inside the country and works for a national TV station (IRIB’s Spanish service, HispanTV), will try to analyze the current situation and its causes and possible outcomes from a perspective as unbiased as possible.
Before examining this topic more closely we first need to have a clear background of the facts and hand: The manifestations first began in the eastern city of Mashhad and their main purpose was to protest the supposed inaction of the government of President Hassan Rouhani towards the inflation, the high levels of unemployment, corruption and the growing economic inequality in Iran (which haven’t been as rampant as presented— I will present statistics for each of these later on and discuss them in detail). The manifestations soon turned into full scale anti-governmental and even anti-system protests.
Different factions, both inside and outside Iran, point to different factors and even State actors to be responsible for the actual situation or at the very least for the start of the protests and the continuation and propagation of them:
Causes from different perspectives
1. The Iranian authorities’ perspective:
The Iranian state’s official line is that the current wave of protests and unrest has its root in the economic problems that the populace are facing but that it began and is being directed by foreign hostile actors such as the U.S, Israel and possibly even Saudi Arabia, while some have pointed directly at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Mossad (Israeli national intelligence service) as the ones responsible (also accused is the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also known as MKO, which have a long history of mischief in Iran, have been accused of taking part in the violent acts).
There are until now no hard facts and evidences presented by the Iranian authorities to confirm or corroborate these allegations but they assure that, considering the past record of these countries, there is no doubt that these events are happening because of their plots.
Nevertheless the Iranian authorities, even though they believe the current wave of unrest to have originated from abroad, they still insist and recognize the right of the populace to take part in peaceful protests and their right to express themselves.
It is of importance to note that the Iranian conservatives also voice similar views and support a tough stance on those committing violent acts and consider them of having external sources.
Important to note is the fact that some of the Iranian officials have pointed to possible internal power plays by the conservatives as part of the reason why the protests began. They assure that the conservatives are instigating the protests as means to discredit the current Administration, reduce its support among the Iranians and force some kind of early elections.
2. The Iranian reformists’ perspectives:
Interestingly the reformists, who have many times in the past headed protests calling for reforms, have distanced themselves from the violent aspects of these manifestations and condemned the United States’ support for the protests and its hostile rhetoric.
In spite of that they still have voiced their support for the people peacefully protesting the economic hardships and have pointed to these (the economic difficulties) as the main perpetrator of the manifestations while they have condemned the “opportunists” and “troublemakers” who are trying to take advantage of the current situation.
Some of the political personalities considered as reformists have also urged the Iranian government and the highest echelons of power to combat corruption and carry out the so called “surgery” that the Iranian economy (specially the banking system) needs in order to avoid unnecessary unrest and possibly even chaos.
3. The Iranians in “exile”, the dissidents and the Pahlavi’s perspective:
The so called Iranians in exile (referring to those opposing the Islamic Republic system), the dissidents and the Pahlavi’s remnants all insist that these are “popular uprisings” protesting the economic hardships and charging against the “regime” that has been “oppressing” them these past 30 and so years.
They also believe that these can and will cause a regime change and are even trying to organize themselves to somehow support the protests in order to fulfill their long held dream of toppling the current Islamic Republic system.
4. The United States (Trump’s Administration) and Israel (and possibly soon their allies’) perspective:
The Administration of President Donald Trump has been very vocal since the beginning —with the Commander in Chief himself tweeting over 6 times about Iran and condemning that country’s authorities— and has made sure to let everyone know that he supports the protests and that will do all in its power to help them achieve their objectives (although that “movement” right now lacks both a leader and a roadmap and, yes, objectives) while, regarding the causes, they share the “exiled ones’” view.
Trump and his team have even gone so far as to call an emergency meeting on Iran in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and are, according to the pioneer of the term “alternative facts”, Kellyanne Conway, in the process of preparing new sanctions against Iranian authorities “involved in Human Rights violations”.
Israel also shares a similar view but denies any involvement in the matter and “hopes” for the fall of the current system.
5. The Barack Obama team, the Democrats and the European countries:
The Democrats and the officials of the previous U.S Administration headed by former President Barack Obama have voiced their concern but they have kept their distance while some have even criticized the over-excitement of Trump & co. over the events that are taking place in Iran.
The European countries have also been, so far, largely silent with the exception of a vague statement by the European Union’s (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini by which she assures that the EU “is watching the events closely” without further explanation.
Now that we know some of the views it may be time to consider some facts about the Iranian economy at the moment. Although some have pointed to economic hardship as the main fuel of the current events it is a bit farfetched to blame it all on that.
First of all, the inflation rate was at 9.6% in November, up 1.2 percent from the previous month but still at levels comparably low to the years before (and specially the last years under the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). One of the current Administration’s most important achievements has been lowering the rampant inflation rates under Ahmadinejad —up to 32% in 2013, when Rouhani was first elected—.
I, as someone that has lived the past several years, have seen much less price increase than during the previous Administration when it was possible to feel the increase of the prices on a weekly basis so I would, according to my own judgement, discard inflation as a source of the protests.
Nevertheless the unemployment rate, the main source of discontent in my opinion, hasn’t lowered much and it has pretty much stayed at around 12.2% which is a major source of disappointment among those who voted for Rouhani since creating jobs was one of his main promises during both campaigns.
Corruption, though, hasn’t been confronted much and it keeps being rampant in the country even though Rouhani’s team has been trying to combat it. Still, there has been an increase in transparency which means that many of the corruption cases that before were hidden from the public eyes now come to the attention of the populace and increase their anger and discontent.
Predictions for the future
Many different scenarios come to mind regarding the future of Iran and the effect of the current events on it.
One of the scenarios could be a tough response by the Iranian authorities against the violent protests which, if not accompanied by some sort of reform or economic action by the Iranian government, could result in even more anger and cause future more powerful and intense unrest and protests which could even end up in a possible civil war and a repeat of the Syrian crisis.
Another scenario could be that the protests and the unrest die down after a while and the government takes various measures to improve the economic conditions in the short term while planning a long term plan to solve the structural problems of the Iranian economy.
A less likely scenario would be the overthrow of the Islamic Republic and its substitution with an unknown regime (we currently do not know the political affiliation of the people involved in the anti-system part of the protests so it’s difficult to guess what they would plan to do in the event of being able to overthrow the I.R). This is a bit farfetched considering the actual situation and the general preference of the Iranian populace of peaceful reform.
There are other scenarios too but these were, considering the views and perspectives presented in the previous sections, the ones that that matter the more.
I highly recommend the Iranian authorities to, if it exists, present hard proof of the involvement of foreign actors in the actual unrest but I also suggest that they take drastic measures to fix some of the structural economic problems and face the rampant corruption in the country and the growing economic inequality. This, I recognize, is a herculean task but a necessary one to safeguard the country against dangers threatening it.