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Middle East Protests expose the shaky foundations of the Islamic Republic

Recent protests across Iran have brought the Islamic Republic once more into the international spotlight. JANE GREEN assesses the current situation

THE rising tide of dissatisfaction among the people of Iran has burst its banks for the first time since 2009 on a large scale, resulting in a wave of demonstrations across the country against the theocratic dictatorship of the Islamic Republic.

The events of recent days, which have escalated from small-scale protests against food shortages and price rises, are rapidly becoming more generalised protests against the lack of freedom and democratic rights, which has been characteristic of the Islamic Republic for the past four decades.

The latest proclamation from the regime’s Revolutionary Guards, that protesters will feel the “iron fist” if demonstrations continue, is symptomatic of the regime’s inability to meet the needs of its people and it has characteristically resorted to use of brute force in order to maintain its grip on power.

Two protesters have already died from gunshot wounds.

According to official figures, unemployment is running at 12.4 per cent in Iran, up 1.4 per cent on the previous year.

Even this figure, however, masks a much deeper malaise within the Iranian economy, with workers’ pay being delayed or withheld for months, short-term and temporary contracts being widespread and the imprisonment of trade union and opposition activists commonplace.

President Hassan Rouhani, elected for a second term just last May, promised greater security and a growing economy following the 5+1 nuclear deal agreed in 2015, where the West promised to withdraw sanctions in exchange for restrictions on the Iranian nuclear energy programme.

The limitations of the deal have been further emphasised however by the imposition of unilateral financial sanctions by the United States, making it virtually impossible for the Iranians to trade in the international oil market.

What little scope the deal may have given the regime in Iran to expand the economy has been effectively strangled at birth.

And whatever benefit the economy gains from international trade goes into the coffers of the theocratic elite or the Revolutionary Guards, rather than the pockets of the ordinary people of Iran.

Official figures show youth unemployment running at 40 per cent in a nation where over 50 per cent of the population are aged under 30.

Iranian authorities have acknowledged that more than five million graduates in the country are unemployed.

One BBC Persian investigation has found that, on average, Iranians have become 15 per cent poorer in the past 10 years.

It is little wonder then that the youth of Iran, alongside the working class, are in the forefront of the current wave of protests. They are not only protesting about the state of things at present but also against the lack of future opportunities.

The last nationwide protests in 2009 focused upon the “stolen election,” the second term won by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an election which many regarded as having been rigged in his favour to keep any hint of reform at bay.

The Rouhani presidency has attempted to give the gloss of reform to its programme and elements in the West have been persuaded that the regime is one that the West could do business with, while ignoring its ongoing appalling record on human rights.

Recent protests, however, have focused not only upon the economic incompetence of the regime but the widespread corruption at its heart.

The thinly veiled “promise” of reform from Rouhani has been stripped bare, with the consequences now being seen on the streets.

The feeling of demonstrators was summed up by one protester from the city of Rasht, who was quoted over the weekend as saying: “Everyone is fed up with the situation, from the young to the old. Every year thousands of students graduate, but there are no jobs for them. Fathers are also exhausted because they don’t earn enough to provide for their family.”

Opposition forces within Iran have made it clear that the experience of the last two decades has proved that the Iranian people are rapidly moving away from the strategy of making a choice between bad and worse.

They are no longer willing to submit to the manipulation of their demands by the regime and the pro-regime reformists such as Rouhani.

At the forefront of opposition voices, the Tudeh Party of Iran in particular has stressed that “the majority of the people of the homeland today want to put an end to the despotic theocratic regime; to end the oppression and injustice; and bring about the establishment of freedom and social justice. These demands can only be achieved through a joint struggle of all the national and freedom-loving forces without foreign intervention.”

The issue of foreign intervention is a significant one, with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel all watching developments closely to assess whether they can gain any advantage from the current protests.

It is widely known that all three would welcome regime change in Iran but change in favour of a regime more compliant with their objective to dominate the Middle East, rather than one which would be to the benefit of the Iranian people.

Any foreign intervention would be disastrous for the people of Iran, the chance of a transition to democracy and for the Iranian economy.

Calls for any military intervention or for the restoration of the monarchy, which have emanated from some quarters, and are given prominence by Western media outlets, should not be taken seriously and must be resisted.

The Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir) has called for solidarity with the Iranian people’s demands for peace, human and democratic rights and social justice. It further calls for the release of all political prisoners.

In particular, the cases of trade union leaders such as Reza Shahabi of the Tehran Vahed Bus Workers Trade Union and Ismail Andi, general secretary of Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Association, should be raised internationally. This would be a meaningful contribution from Western public opinion.

The current protests are evidence that the Islamic Republic is built upon shaky foundations. Only the people of Iran themselves can bring the house down and rebuild it in a style which will reflect their needs and their legitimate demands for peace, social justice and democracy.

Jane Green is national officer of Codir. For more information visit www.codir.net.

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