Prominent economist Masoud Nili, an adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, has warned that the protests that overwhelmed Iran in December and January could “reoccur and spread” if the government fails to win the nation’s confidence.
In a March 14 interview with the administration-owned daily newspaper Iran, Nili said that continuing economic reforms without the public’s trust in the government would be “dangerous.”
He stressed that Iran’s top priority should be “to revive hope and social capital.”
Analyzing the protests that spread to more than 100 Iranian cities and towns, Nili said, “Those demonstrations were a warning that further wider protests might be on the way. Next time, there may not be the chance to control them.”
The protests started in the city of Mashhad with the slogan “No to high prices” and soon spread to other cities as demonstrators questioned the government’s political, economic, and cultural performance. At least 25 people were killed in the ensuing clashes with military and security forces, who arrested thousands of protesters.
At least three detainees died in custody, Iranian media reported, quoting judiciary officials. Prison officials portrayed the deaths as suicides.
“The continuation of current trends will expose the government to danger,” Nili said.
Earlier, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli had also warned that the discontent behind the protests remains. “One spark can light the fire,” he said.
\Various groups such as students and workers have since taken part in renewed demonstrations, and women have carried out a new round of protests compulsory hijab.
Government forces have attempted to suppress the protests with limited success.
“Everyone is against each other,” Nili told Iran newspaper. “It’s as if there were a patient in serious condition at the hospital and the relatives are fighting the doctors and one another at the same time.”
“It is dangerous to continue economic reforms in the absence of social capital,” he continued. “First, social capital should be accumulated, and then one can take the next steps.”
He warned that a lack of confidence in state officials would render economic reforms impossible.
“If the people trust the government and know that a rise in the price of fuel will lead to an improvement in transportation, they will support the government. But they need to make sure the government will use the funds properly,” Nili said.
“Iranian households’ welfare redoubled between 1995 and 2005,” he explained. But “when ultraconservative President Mahmud Ahmadinejad took over in 2005, he promised better living standards for the poor, but not only did this improvement not materialize during his term of office, even the previous trend of economic improvement stopped.”
“Another development during the same period was the payment of cash subsidies to the people, which boosted their purchasing power. But a combination of high inflation and recession nullified this tentative improvement of people’s livelihoods,” Nili said.
“As Rouhani took office in 2013, he managed to make up for some of what had been lost, but the situation never returned to how it looked before 2005,” he continued. “Although the situation hasn’t worsened in comparison with 2013, the people -- particularly the poor -- are angry because the promises made between 2005 and 2009 by Ahmadinejad were never delivered.”
He pointed out that the current level of dissatisfaction among the middle-class stems from their unmet expectations of economic improvements following the nuclear deal with the West.
“As a result, both the low-income strata and the middle class have serious demands that have not been met,” Nili said.
However, Nili links all the dissatisfaction only to economic factors. Speaking to a government media outlet inside Iran, perhaps he cannot mention that lack of political and social freedoms also contribute to popular dissatisfaction with the Islamic Republic.