Iran has always been a major center of discontent and revolution in the Middle East since the Cold War. Beginning with the election protests of 2009, Iran’s regime has begun to experience major social unrest against political repression and economic crisis. On 28 December, 2017, massive anti-government protests erupted in Mashhad, the second largest city of Iran. The protests were sparked by the declining economy and the failure of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s economic policy.
President Hassan Rouhani campaigned and won on a platform of economic revitalization with a host of ambitious new policies and campaign promises. According to a poll in 2015, Rouhani’s popularity skyrocketed to eighty-nine percent of Iranians being favorable to him with the alleviation of sanctions through the Iran Nuclear Deal. However, since the Iran deal, the economy has stagnated and fiscal hardship characterizes the lives of most Iranian citizens.
“The nuclear deal is overwhelmingly supported by the Iranian public, but there was an expectation that much more economic development would come out of it” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, an organization founded by Iranian emigrants.
The expectation that the lifting of sanctions through the Iran deal would bring more economic prosperity to Iran was extremely prevalent and made Rouhani very popular at the time. However, the failure of the economic benefits or revitalize the economy of Iran, especially for the lower and middle classes, caused general discontentment and resentment.
“Young people are angry and frustrated, without a hope in the future” said Nader Karimi Juni, a journalist.
As unemployment continued to plague the country, Rouhani released a new budget that slashed fuel and cash subsidies while maintaining high funding for the Revolutionary Guard and religious institutions. In addition, the budget proposals and the failure of the lifting of economic sanctions to revitalize the Iranian economy were widely blamed on the corruption of the regime. These circumstances, combined with a sudden spike in food prices, provided the spark for the protests in Mashhad.
From Mashhad, the protests quickly spread like wildfire and engulfed several other major cities in Iran. However, the succeeding protests not only protested the economic policies of Iran, but also the social and political ones. The demonstrations called for greater civil rights and political freedoms. They chanted anti-Khomeini and anti-Rouhani slogans, criticizing the oppressive nature of the current regime. Students and younger demographics make up a large section of the demonstrations. Disillusioned by slim prospects for employment and aspiring for greater civil liberties, they sought reform through means outside the corrupt regime.
Despite the initial popularity of the protests, the demonstrations have already begun to die down and the Iranian government has opted to use forceful measures in order to crush the protests. Using tear gas and police forces, the current regime has repressed the movement temporarily. Nonetheless, the underlying spirit of discontentment with the Iranian government will prevail and sustain itself for as long as the government fails to curb the current economic depression. This mood of resentment towards the regime may become a catalyst for future movements in Iran.
Photo Courtesy of NPR