You’ve probably heard about a number of protests breaking out in Iran lately. If you know a thing or two about oppressive regimes in the Middle East, you might be tempted to say “hey, they’re probably mad that women can’t drive” and leave it at that. But, as always, the reality is more complex, and you’d be thinking of Saudi Arabia. Let’s dig a little deeper.
On December 28th, a small protest broke out in the conservative-leaning city of Mashhad. That should be your first signal that this isn’t just in protest of oppressive conservative values. What followed was an organic spread across the country of people rising up in protest, not of values, but of economic conditions. Iran’s economy has long underserved its populace, something exacerbated by widespread international sanctions in response to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
But in the past couple of years, President Hassan Rouhani seemed to promise a brighter future – he won his second election with 57% of the vote and 70% voting by supporting some socialism-lite policies. A big promise was the Iran Deal – if Iran agreed, the US and the rest of the P5+1 would lift a number of sanctions and pay money back to Iran that had been owed, wealth that Rouhani said would make its way to the people of Iran. Instead, it’s been spent on religious institutions.
However, that hasn’t been what’s panned out. So while the initial protestors were quite conservative, the movement has gone far beyond a conservative/liberal divide. This is about jobs. With an unemployment rate around 25% for young people, Iranians are suffering. It’s telling that 81% of cities that saw protests (for which unemployment data was available) have unemployment rates above the national average of 12.5%.
The geographically widespread nature of the protests also suggests that they’ve spread by means of social media and the internet – clearly something recognized by the government, as they’ve shut down the app Telegram, a messaging service popular in Iran.
Now, these protests are nowhere near as big or organized as the 2009 Green Movement, but the difference is that the Green Movement took place largely in Tehran – this is country-wide. Already, 32 people have died, and 3700 have been detained. These numbers should give you a sense of what’s at stake – and how fed up the Iranian People are. #fpf