Anti-government protests in Iran have erupted into violence, with confrontations between government forces and demonstrators being reported around the country. Two protestors have been reportedly killed as a result of these clashes.
Protests have raged across Iran for three consecutive days. Erupting throughout several Iranian cities days ago, protestors continue to gather despite the central government’s warnings to avoid “illegal gatherings.” Organized as a means to voice concerns over plummeting living standards, mounting unemployment, and a recent and steep increase in the price of food, protestors have begun calling for an end to the regime of Ayatollah Khamenei and clerical rule in the country. Moreover, while protestors began demonstrations peacefully, clashes with police forces have become commonplace, with damage to government property and that of pro-government groups, such as the Basij militia, being reported. The Iranian government has responded by attempting to stifle the protestors’ ability to communicate. For instance, many demonstrators have reported being unable to access the internet from their phones and, according to the CEO of the messaging app “Telegram,” requests have been made by the Iranian Communications Minister for the company to suspend some Iranian accounts. Despite this, much of the information regarding the protests have been spread via social media which, according to the BBC, has made it difficult to confirm the severity and legitimacy of events surrounding the protests.
That said, these protests come at a time of great discontent within Iranian society. Much of its populace has had to face increasing uncertainty in their future as Iranian economic stability quickly disintegrates. Traditionally viewed as a consequence of sanctions placed on the country as a result of its nuclear program, blame for the degrading economic situation has shifted towards the government itself. Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Nader Hashemi, the head of Middle East studies at the University of Denver, highlights the fact that many Iranians view the government’s recent focus on foreign politics as the root cause of their economic woes, with many of them “[…] not understanding why Iran has invested so heavily in regional foreign policy adventurism to the detriment of Iran’s own internal economic problems.” In spite of these concerns, the Iranian government’s response has been to blame foreign elements and opposition parties for the spread of discontent as a means to, according to Eshaq Jahangiri, the first Vice President of Iran, “harm the government” under the pretext of demanding change.
Nonetheless, the Iranian government’s response to the protestors will have repercussions that extend far outside of the country’s borders. The fact that much of the discontent voiced by the demonstrators is linked to Iran’s growing adventurism in the region can potentially put the government in a position where it would have to choose between maintaining its significant regional influence or heeding the concerns of its people. Iran’s regional allies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, are currently embroiled in a variety of armed and political conflicts and rely heavily on Iranian funding and supplies to maintain their respective positions.
With that said, if Iran chooses to continue to push aside its domestic economic problems, they may face increasing domestic opposition, which could escalate into conflict. Thus, while provocations have been kept to a minimum, the death of protestors at the hands of government forces could be a sign of coming escalation, both within and outside of Iran.
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