Why do Iranians protest in the streets

Most serious unrest in 40 years : What makes the protests in Iran so extraordinary

The German-Iranian political scientist Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, the branch of the US think tank Brookings in Qatar.

Ali Zia, a well-known young presenter of Iranian state television, summed it up shortly after the tripling of gasoline prices on November 15th: “Our managers compare our taxi prices with those in New York, the gasoline price with that in London, the rents with those in Paris ... But when it comes to salaries, they compare it to Ethiopia. "

It was an unusually sharp satire for the state-controlled media, but it is also an unusually tough time for the Iranians, who took to the streets to draw attention to their plight immediately after the surprisingly drastic price hike. There were protests in about 100 cities. However, the regime literally released the demonstrators to be shot down as "rioters". In camera - a total internet ban imposed by the government shortly after the protests broke out - the regime reacted with sheer violence. Human rights organizations fear well over 200 deaths and worry that the more than 7,000 arrested will face torture or even execution.

Iran continues to be one of the countries where the gasoline price is the cheapest. But households with low incomes are under increasing economic pressure, especially since this price increase also makes other goods more expensive. At least half of Iranians live on the poverty line. Youth unemployment and inflation are extremely high, and salaries are low. At the same time, food prices have risen in recent years, the income gap has widened and corruption has remained high.

The government had promised to redistribute the profits from the petrol price increase to 18 million households in need, that is to say to around 60 million people (thereby implicitly admitting the plight of many Iranians). However, the planned compensation does not live up to the government's promise of relief either in terms of breadth or depth. The people who immediately took to the streets suspected this. The protest is an expression of a deeper distrust of the Iranian leadership and its promises.

The hasty price increase was probably due to an overstretched budget. The US sanctions have collapsed oil revenues that are so important to Iran. At the same time, however, semi-governmental institutions - those economic empires associated with the “religious foundations”, the Revolutionary Guards and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - continue to refuse accountability and taxation. Instead, the state elite is now reaching into the already empty trouser pockets of the population.

Repressions of the regime

The new wave of protests is reminiscent of the protests that rocked the Islamic Republic at the turn of the year 2018. At that time, it subsided again after about a week, partly because of state reprisals and partly because the middle class did not participate. However, the November uprising must be understood as a continuation of this wave. To this day, the regime has not responded to the economic hardship or political demands. Then as now, the protests immediately developed into anti-regime demonstrations that targeted all wings: the so-called moderates as well as the hardliners. Even then, they spread like wildfire.

But this time it is much more serious, which is also shown by the panic and brutal reaction of the regime. In contrast to January 2018, this time, according to the more conservative information from the Interior Ministry, up to 200,000 people took to the streets - five times more than then. The demonstrators have become more fearless and express their anger more openly: Among other things, pictures of the revolutionary leader and a statue of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, were burned. It remains unclear exactly who is responsible for the high number of further damage to property - be it those considered symbols of the regime's repression or purely civilian damage. Although popular anger has risen due to the accumulated pressure, there is evidence that some of the security forces themselves rioted to blame the demonstrators.

Government takes tough action

Otherwise, the protests were largely peaceful, as Amnesty International underlined. The government, on the other hand, was disproportionately harsh, and many of the victims were downright executed with headshots.

The rise in the price of petrol has once again brought to light collective discontent in Iran. Time and again, the regime has dashed Iranians' hopes for social justice and the fight against corruption and nepotism. The Islamic Republic finds itself in an ever deeper legitimation crisis and is increasingly securing its rule with naked force.

It is crucial that the Iranians continue to blame their own rulers for their economic misery first - and not external forces. The US sanctions have hit the Iranian budget hard, but the economic situation of the average Iranian has deteriorated. The reason for the poor economic situation of many Iranians or for nationwide protests are not the sanctions - contrary to what the officials in Tehran, Washington, but also Europe claim.

Turning point for Iran

There is no doubt that the Iranian uprising marks a turning point for the Islamic Republic. Because the regime remains incapable of reform and is not able (or better: willing) to alleviate the country's economic and political misery. The next outbreak of popular anger will therefore only be a matter of time.

Last but not least, Europe's silence over the bloodbath in Iran was deafening. They hid themselves behind diplomatic phrases and thus sent a devastating signal.

Didn't they know that a national blood supply emergency was declared in Iran during the protests? Had the alarming reports from Amnesty not been noticed? One should have stood by one's values ​​- and condemned the brutality of the Iranian state and threatened with consequences. But it's not too late for that.


Translation: Tilman Schröter

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