Iran: uprising against austerity —and clerical rule?

A wave of protests across Iranian cities began as a response to inflation and economic pain, but shows signs of escalating to a popular repudiation of clerical rule. Spontaneous protests first broke out Dec. 28 in the northeast city of Mashhad, where security forces responded with tear-gas and water cannons. Since then, protests have been reported from Kermanshah and Hamadan in the west, Rasht and Sari in the north, Ahvaz in the southwest, and Qom and Isfahan in central Iran. Arrests are also reported from the capital, Tehran, where a group of demonstrators attempted to occupy a public square. Protests began with the slogan "Death to high prices!" But as repression mounted, demonstrators began chanting "Death to the dictator," in apparent reference to President Hassan Rouhani and the ruling mullahs.

Other popular slogans include "Freedom or death," "Don't be afraid, we are all together," and "Political prisoners must go free." In a sentiment that has been heard before in protests in Iran, demonstrators took aim at the massive Iranian military presence in Syria, chanting, "Leave Syria, think about us!" (Iran News Update, Dec. 30; BBC News, Dec. 29; Iran Focus, Center for Human Rights in Iran, Dec. 28)

Official media have reacted predictably, with Fars News Agency calling the protesters "anti-revolutionaries," and accusing them of destroying public property. Tasnim, a news service affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, seemed to blame Rouhani, claiming the protests were directed at him for failing to help thousands who lost their life savings as a result of private banks and investment houses going bankrupt.

Iran's inflation rate was recorded at 9.9% in December 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It was as high as 35% during President Hassan Rouhani's first year in office in 2013. With around 60% of Iran's population under the age of 30, youth unemployment was recorded at an agonizing 40% in 2017. 

The demonstrations coincide with the anniversary of the bloodiest days of the Green Movement on December 2009, known as the "Ashura Protests."   (Center for Human Rights in Iran, Dec. 29)

The Green Movement, which was followed by a Nowruz crackdown in March 2010, also had its origins in austerity measures imposed in reaction to the slump in oil prices. Global oil prices of course remain depressed today, despite a recent uptick in response to escalated Middle East tensions. See our last post on the civil opposition in Iran.

Iran: good news and bad news

The new protests in Iran come just as the regime took an important but little-noted move to relax the strictures of clerical rule. Women in Tehran, at least, will no longer be arrested for appearing in public with their heads uncovered, city authorities have announced. "Those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centers, nor will judicial cases be filed against them," said Gen. Hossein Rahimi, the city’s police chief. Repeat offenders may still face prosecution and the relaxation applies only in the capital, where more liberal social mores prevail. Offenders will instead be made to attend classes given by the police. (London Times, Dec. 29)

There is much confusion about the politics of the hijab among progressives in the West, due to the fact that, there, women can be persecuted for wearing it. But being persecuted for not wearing it in Iran is obviously no better.

Meanwhile, in a sign of social discontent finding an extremely ugly expression, two synagogues in Shiraz were attacked by vandals who damaged Torah scrolls, prayer books and ritual objects. (JTA, Dec. 28)

Trump supports Iranian protests ...don't get confused now

Maddeningly but inevitably, Trump has just tweeted his support for the Iranian protesters, while the State Department has issued a formal statement admonishing Tehran against repression. (WaEx, Daily Beast)

As we've pointed out regarding opposition in Iran (as well as Syria, China and Cuba), this kind of US "support" arguably hurts more than it helps, allowing the state to more easily portray protesters as pawns, dupes or agents of the West.

But please let's not get confused here. Hopefully there is no need to belabor Trump's hypocrisy—the great friend of dictators and enthusiast for repression suddenly concerned with the Iranian protesters. (Exactly as in Venezuela.) But that this does not alter the right-and-wrong of what is happening in Iran, any more than the enthusiasm in the Iranian official media (and Russia Today) for the Honduran protests or Occupy Wall Street alters the right-and-wrong of those struggles. We all understand this, right?


Iranian protesters target Khamenei

Protesters in Iran are now openly venting their rage on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, teearing down his posters and chanting "Death to Khamenei!" A group of protesters are said to be marching on Khamenei's residence in Tehran. Demonstrations have now turned violent, with at least three protesters killed in the city of Doroud. (Al-Arabiya, Haaretz)

Trump and Khamenei: bbfs

What did we say about portraying protesters as pawns, dupes or agents of the West? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says, with perfect predistability: "In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools, including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic." (VOA) How convenient for him that Trump is vocally supporting the protesters...

US exploits Iran protests; Russia exploits Black Lives Matter

With utmost cynicism, US ambassador Nikki Haley tells the UN: "Let there be no doubt whatsoever, the United States stands unapologetically with those in Iran who seek freedom for themselves." (Right, but fuck those in Honduras, Peru, the Philippines, etc.) Her Russian opposite number, Vasily Nebenzya, responded by asking rhetorically why the Security Council hasn't taken up the issue of Black Lives Matter protests in the US. (NYT)

This from an exponent of the Moscow regime that is using torture and persecution to suppress the autonomy struggle of the Crimean Tatars. Come on. We hope we do not have to belabor the obvious cynicism on both sides here.

Labour betrays Iran protesters

British MP Emily Thornberry claims Labour is unable to back demonstrators in Iran because it is unclear which side is wearing "the white hats." Party leader Jeremy Corbyn remains silent and apparently on the fence. (HuffPo) Brilliant. So it is left to Trump to exploit the issue—increasingl the likelihood that some of the Iran protesters (at least) will take his bait, and Labour will be complicit in making the charge that the protesters are US-backed a self-fulfulling prophecy. So deeply counter-productive,