Iranians across the country joined in unauthorized protest last weekend to speak out against the government’s inability to fix ongoing economic troubles like rising prices and unemployment. Dozens of people have been arrested.
Iran’s economy, which is largely dependent on oil, has long been plagued by high unemployment and double-digit inflation. Data from the International Monetary Fund shows inflation at 10.5%, down from nearly 40% in 2013.
Unemployment is disproportionately high among young workers, and socioeconomic inequality is a growing problem.
“Corruption is rampant and hardliners maintain control over vast swaths of the economy,” reports DW.
GDP growth soared in 2016 thanks to the JCPOA (an Obama-era deal that removed international sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on the country’s nuclear program), but the effects have yet to trickle down to the average working-class Iranian.
President Trump in October refused to certify Iran’s compliance with JCPOA terms. He also slapped new sanctions on Iran in order to protect Israel from the country’s growing ballistic-missile program. In the wake of the protests, one government official blamed Trump for preventing Iran from reaping the economic benefits of the nuclear deal.
On Friday, Trump tweeted support for the protestors: “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!”
A government official condemned Trump’s tweet as “meddlesome.”
The US State Department joined Trump in criticizing Iran and supporting the protestors: “Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos.”
Anti-government protests began Thursday in Mashhad and continued into Saturday. Authorities were forced to use tear gas to disperse crowds, and at least two protestors where shot.
Videos posted to social media show protestors shouting “death to Rouhani” and “leave Syria, think about us.” Iran’s involvement in conflict abroad includes support for Presdient Bashar al Assad in Syria and the Hamas and Hezbollah movements in Gaza and Lebanon, respectively.
Others protestors aimed their frustration at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, shouting “shame on you, Seyyed Ali Khamenei” and burning images of his face.
When President Rouhani assumed office in August 2013, he inherited a mismanaged government and an economy afflicted by high subsidies and other populist policies enacted by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Renewed anti-government sentiment could president a challenge for Rouhani, who was re-elected in May on promises that he would revitalize the economy.
Rouhani’s administration has managed to stabilize the currency, but prices on basic goods like eggs have recently increased by 30-40%.
“With good policies and expert management they could have stopped the damage,” complains Taraneh Kamali, a doctor who works in Tehran.
Rouhani’s efforts to improve Iran’s international isolation have also been met with pushback from the public.
“Economic malaise causes periodic protests in Iran, but this new round seems to have gained more momentum as Rouhani’s hardline rivals added more fuel to the fire in the wake of price hikes and slashing of subsidies,” explains Ali Vaez, who leads the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group.
Overt political demonstrations are rare in Iran, where protesting is illegal and security services are omnipresent. Last weekend’s protests seem to have been orchestrated by reformist politicians who protested the re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009.
“Those who are behind such events will burn their own fingers,” warned Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.
The anti-government protests occurred simultaneously with an annual pro-government rally in Tehran, where tens of thousands gathered to support the country’s leaders amid the chaos.
“Counterrevolution groups and foreign media are continuing their organized efforts to misuse the people’s economic and livelihood problems and their legitimate demands to provide an opportunity for unlawful gatherings and possibly chaos,” reported state TV, which provided scant coverage of the protests.
Editor’s note: Trump has taken some flak for this for supporting the protests in his tweets. But it shows that pressure on Iran is having some effect. Will changes come as a result?