GP Insights # 195, 30 November 2019
The protests in Iran have ascended after they recently announced a petrol rationing scheme leading to fuel hikes. A large number of motorcyclists, taxi drivers, and transport operators have raised concerns over this considering Tehran’s critical dependence on gasoline and energy products. Amnesty International, in its tweet, reported the death of 161 protesters since 15 November. Thousands of protestors have been arrested. The human rights NGO also flagged concerns over the suppression of freedom and rights.
Despite internet blockade in Iran, there has been substantial global support on news and social media platforms. While Iran has attracted international criticism, it has blamed Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US among its foes for the protests. Beijing followed a similar tactic in the case of Hong Kong Protests.
What is the background?
Tehran’s deep-rooted reliance on energy has witnessed similar protests in the past years. More than 30 per cent of Iran's GDP was spent on oil subsidies in 2018. However, the ongoing protest has been a prolonged affair. Similar trends were witnessed in 2007 after the government slashed energy subsidies in their bid to redistribute monetary support towards primary developmental sectors.
Iranian ventures to rework its economic structure has often backfired with widespread protests and external impediments. The present protests come amid international economic pressure on Iran, leading to budget limitations and state expenditure gaps. Protests in Iran are not new, but the present movement and response from authorities raises eyebrows.
What does it mean?
The peaceful nature of protests despite a violent crackdown by authorities has been an exciting feature. While this points to the progressive expression of dissent in Iran, it highlights protestors' resentment against the political establishment in Iran. Weak governance and corruption in political leadership could have supplemented the protests.
Second, the US sanctions coupled with Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ policy have been irritants restricting Iran’s autonomy in deciding energy affairs. Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has aggravated domestic and international tensions. Similar strategic and multilateral frictions could further plummet the living conditions and incite instability.
Third, Iran’s failure to induct diversified economic models have been at the cost of enriching human capital. Iran’s ‘rentier’ status impacts its economic health both domestically and internationally. Its efforts to shift from energy reliant development towards a comprehensive one has been tardy. One could only hope for a gradual shift, bereft of violence towards prosperity.