Iran Protests, A Rocky Start to 2018 And Now An Uncertain Future
A series of anti-government rallies rocked Iran to start 2018. Protests that threatened to shake the foundation of the Islamic republic.
According to an ABC report on January 9, 2018, as many as 3,700 protesters were detained during the demonstrations. The figure, as stated by an Iranian parliament member, was considerably higher than what the Iranian government said.
The protest kicked off in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, on December 28, 2018. Why Mashhad? The city is the most sacred city for Shiites and a home base of Ebrahim Raisi, President Hassan Rouhani’s political rival in the 2017 presidential election.
There is also a prominent Shiite preacher Ahmad Alamolhoda, who allegedly called on the city’s residents to stage protests against Rouhani. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly joined the demonstrations and criticized the Rouhani administration for mishandling the economy and triggering the hike in food prices and unemployment rate.
Starting from Mashhad, the protest spread to other cities such as Karaj, Abhar, Dorud, and the country’s capital Teheran.
Ahmadinejad’s comment led to his arrest by authorities, according to the Daily Mail. His lawyer denied any truth to the story, advising the world to seek updates from a more credible source.
2018 vs 2009: How do we compare both mass rallies in Iran?
Iran has a long history of mass protesting. Most still remember how a rally proved successful in the overthrowing of the US-backed Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. But the unrest in June 2009 failed to change the result of the presidential election, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won almost 63 percent of the vote, despite some reported irregularities.
There are some notable differences between the 2009 and the 2017/2018 protests one must consider:
- The 2009 protests were centred in Tehran and other major cities such as Shiraz, Tabriz, and Ishafan, with most of the protesters coming from middle and upper classes. The 2017/2018 protests mostly took place in smaller cities and towns, with the majority of rally participants being younger individuals under the age of 25.
- The core focus of the 2009 mass rally was clear; Iranians wanted to alter the election outcome and install reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi as a new president.
- The 2017/2018 protest stemmed from the country’s economic problem following the increase in egg prices as a symbol of a high inflation rate. The country’s unemployment rate has reached 12.4 percent, and Iranian Minister of Domestic Affairs Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazl said the figure is likely higher in specific regions.
- The International Labour Organization (ILO) revealed that 26.7 percent of young people aged 15-26 tend to be unemployed.
The primary factor driving the 2017/2018 protest is shifting from economic hardship to the demand for a regime change due to dissatisfaction with a corrupt system and violations of human rights.
Iranians expected an improved economy after sanctions were removed in a deal between Iran and permanent members of UN Security Council (plus Germany) where an agreement was reached in regards to its nuclear program.
Social media has played a vital role in gathering support for the current unrest. Despite the authority’s effort to restrict the use of the internet, Iranian youth have been taking advantage of social media’s powerful influence.
Looking back to 2009, it was almost impossible to organize people living across the country in less than 24 hours without the role of technology. Telegram is the most popular communication application in Iran, with an estimated number of users reaching 40 million out of the country’s population of 80 million.
How the world reacted to the Iran protests.
The world is watching what is happening in Iran, one of the most influential nations in the Middle East. The protest, initially triggered by issues with the nation’s economy, has touched other issues including corruption and human rights violations. Iranians have also called for the Rouhani government to stop sending troops to Syria and Yemen and to instead focus on the needs of their people.
Iranian’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the U.S of backing protesters. Qatar, Turkey, and even Qatari-based prominent media outlet Al Jazeera believed that this year’s protest received strong backing from the Trump administration.
Despite the recent decrease in the numbers of protesters, the Middle East is carefully paying attention to what the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is doing to contain the protest.
Should Iranians still feel discontent with the government and erupt in another protest, the country’s neighbors may find it hard to censor news regarding current events in Iran.
The protests have quelled recently but the unrest is still smoldering.