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Why Are Iranians Protesting - Bad Economy Or A Total Rejection Of The Regime


Protests in the city of Mashhad December 28 - screen grab

In recent days, thousands of Iranians across the country have taken to the streets to protest against the government and clerical rule.

Observers initially said that the protests were caused by increasing cost of living and unemployment. In fact, on Thursday, the first day of protests, many demonstrators in the eastern city of Mashhad chanted slogans against President Rouhani and accused him of not being able to improve the economy.

Several of Rouhani’s conservative opponents, in an usual move, showed support for the protests and voiced their own criticism of the government.

“We should not label all of the protesters anti-revolutionary”, a hardline cleric, Ahmad Khatami, a member of the influential Council of Experts, which has the constitutional role of selecting the supreme leader, said on Friday.

Ahmad Alamolhoda, another member of the council and a fierce critic of Rouhani claimed that bankrupt financial institutions are responsible for the outbreak of protests and asked the government to compensate for the losses incurred by the people and improve their lives.

President Rouhani and his team suspect that their conservative opponents have instigated the demonstrations in order to weaken government.

President’s deputy Eshagh Jahangiri admitted on Friday that the price for some goods have increased in recent days, however, he said that all economic indicators were showing an improved economy.

“Those who initiated the actions against the government should know that they will be the losers”, Jahangiri added without elaborating further.

But, whoever was responsible for the protests, the situation soon went out of control and more people came to the streets with more radical slogans and demands: “Death to Khamenei”, “Khamenei, be ashamed and leave the country alone”, “death to the dictator”, “independence, freedom, Iranian republic”, and “not Gaza, not Lebanon, I give my life for Iran” are only some of the slogans that targeted the supreme leader and the entire political system in Iran.

At least in three cities, including Tehran, protesters brought out banners with photos of Ayatollah Khamenei upside down.

Regarding the nature of the protests and their root cause, Iranian sociologist Majid Mohammadi writing in an op-ed for Radio Farda titled “Iranian Awakening” says that maybe government plans for raising prices of goods and services, the banking crisis, and the delay in paying retirees’ pensions and workers’ salaries sparked the events. However the slogans reveal that people are tired of the whole regime and do not see any hope for improvement.

Even many who voted for Rouhani in May’s presidential election are disappointed. Rouhani received people’s vote with reformist slogans, but later shifted his position toward the conservatives and the supreme leader, Mohammadi argues.

According to Mohammadi, allocation of millions of dollars for religious entities and the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that are directly controlled by the supreme leader and do not serve the nation’s interests at all are a good indicator of Rouhani’s shift to the right.

Fereydoon Khavand, an Iranian professor of economy in France, told Radio Farda that increasingly ordinary people in Iran do not see a future for themselves and their children. Hopes of improvement and economic stability have vanished.

In recent months, the Iranian regime has been celebrating its victory over IS in Iraq and Assad opponents in Syria and claimed that Iran was a secure and stable country in the region. Mohammadi argues that the current protests have put an end to such “illusions”.

On Saturday night, protesters in Shiraz tore down a big poster of General Ghasem Soleimani, IRGC Qods force commander. The regime describes Soleimani a national hero for his role in the Iraq and Syria wars.

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    Mohammadreza Kazemi

    Mohammadreza Kazemi is an Iranian journalist and a former colleague at Radio Farda, who still occasionally contributes. He currently lives in the United States.

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