Economic Protests Shake Iran

Tensions are escalating in Iran as anti-government protests erupt across different cities over the country’s economic policies, making them the largest protests the Iranian government has faced in nearly a decade.

Protests began on Thursday in the second-largest city of Masshad, with Iranians expressing anger against rising prices, unemployment, and economic inequality according to Iran’s semi-state news agency, Fars. While some say that the rising prices are a result of Iran’s foreign policy, others say it can be attributed to the sanctions placed on the country. By Friday, demonstrations had gained momentum and spread to various other major cities including the capital, Tehran. The protests are being described as the largest in nearly a decade, and various reports are coming out on confrontations between police and protestors. In the capital on Saturday, students chanted anti-government slogans outside Tehran University before being dispersed by riot police and pro-government demonstrators, while in Masshad 50 were arrested. Many of the anti-government slogans being chanted such as “Death to Rouhani”, “Forget Palestine”, and “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran,” criticize the country’s foreign policy. Ali Fathollah-Nejad, visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, told Al Jazeera that “Because of [President Hassan] Rouhani’s failed economic policies, there was a simmering discontent below the surface that is now emerging.”

While the Iranian government has acknowledged people’s concerns over the economy, Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli warned demonstrators on state television early on Sunday that “Those who damage public property, disrupt order, and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price.” Eshaq Jahangiri, first vice president of Iran, also suggested on Friday that while some protesters may be protesting against high prices, others were merely trying to derail the government.

The US too has been quick to respond to these recent developments, with the State Department condemning “the arrest of the peaceful protesters.” In a statement released on Friday, they urged “all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.” In addition, US President Donald Trump most recently tweeted: “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever. The world is watching!” Under Trump’s administration, Washington and Tehran have grown further apart due to opposing views on foreign policy issues such as the wars in Syria and Yemen and the 2015 nuclear deal.

Even now they continue to call for anti-government demonstrations over Iranian social media. Experts say that protests have escalated much faster than anticipated. Negar Mortazavi, a journalist for Iran International, an independent online news service, said: “It wasn’t expected to be anything beyond the slogans against the administration and the president.” However, “it seems like the dissent within the Iranian population is so much deeper that this has gone beyond the presidency  and all the way up to the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], which is very worrisome for all factions of the establishment” As such, it is very important that the Iranian government address it’s people’s concerns rather than downplay the issues being brought up. As 12 are left dead in the clashes and protests continue on, it is clear that action must be taken quickly.