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CWA # 342, 17 September 2020

GLOBAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS
Looking Inwards: The anti-government protests in Iran

  A Padmashree

The first term of President Rouhani sided well with the notable agreement with the United States. But in the second term the Americans began to back out from the promises of nuclear deal. With the schemes of corruption coming into light and pressure building from the right-wing President Rouhani decided to justify by raising taxes on gasoline. This profligacy inspired protestors to come to the streets in November 2019 for the three-fold rise in gasoline prices.

Background

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been the epicentre of the unrest. When looked into late 1970s, it took a decade for the movement to gain consciousness about democracy amongst the elite segment. As another decade passed where President Mohammed Khatami comes to power in 1997. Here the reformists intend to strengthen the democratic component but due to a strong authoritarian casing, the mission fails. Even though they struggled to cause disruption to his plans, the failure was epidemic and kept people away from the 2005 elections to vote. This loophole gave rise to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was declared the winner in the 2009 elections. People had to take part in the 2009 elections due to prolonged isolation and depreciation of the currency and they felt that the result was unscrupulous. This gave to demonstrations in the streets called Green uprising, led by middle-class protestors of Tehran and fronted by the underclass and the unemployed of provincial towns. As observed the movement failed due to many reasons but mainly because of an important policy followed by the parliament. That is, the constitution was framed in a way to grant three-fourth political power to the office of the supreme leader who is a permanent member and remains unelected but given control of the IRGC, armed forces, foreign policy, intelligence, judicial and extrajudicial powers to implement his decision. Whereas the president, who is democratically elected is given no power to question the leader. So, by default the system has remained blindfolded by its own flaws, resisting to grow and inability to adapt to the environment. In contrast to the present riots, the protest had a clear political vision but was detained, indicted, and suppressed very rapidly.

The spread of the movement

The reformists let the green movement 2009 bygone and elected Hassan Rouhani in 2013. He was portrayed as a moderate who promised international normalization and economic prosperity, that ignored the reality of his nature of being a loyal servant of Iran’s Islamic Revolution who was dedicated to preserving the repressive, theocratic regime. The first term of President Rouhani sided well with the notable agreement with the United States. But in the second term, the Americans began to back out from the promises of a nuclear deal. With the schemes of corruption coming into light and pressure building from the right-wing President Rouhani decided to justify by raising taxes on gasoline. This profligacy inspired protestors to come to the streets in November 2019 for the three-fold rise in gasoline prices. This was the proximate cause of the current unrest, which was only a trigger. Another unlikely turn was Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) admitting that it had shot down a Ukraine International Airlines with 176 passengers in January 2020. This second wave of protests spread to all segments of people mainly students at its forefront from universities and to various cities around the country. This gave different dimensions to the protest, where students of Yazd University protested for poor conditions of food and had reported as suffering from digestive problems due to bad quality and hygiene. Whereas, in the Industrial sector from factory workers to taxi drivers, a large sum of protestors held demonstrations for laying off and overdue salaries. As per the report on 13 February 2020 from The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) has identified 724 out of 1500 protestors killed by the regime.

Click the PDF file to read the full essay. It was first published in the NIAS Quarterly on Contemporary World Affairs, Vol 2, Issues 2&3. 

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