Why are Iranians Protesting?
R Arun Kumar
IRAN is witnessing unprecedented protest demonstrations for the past one week. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the streets demanding a better life. This is the first time in eight years, since the protests against alleged electoral fraud in 2009, that Iran is once again witnessing such protests and unrest. According to official statistics released by the government, more than 20 people have died and hundreds were injured in the protests. Thousands more were detained by the security forces. The Iranian interior ministry states that the average age of most the detainees is between 20 and 25 years, which means that most of the protesters are under the age of 25.
There are some vital differences in the protests that shook Iran in 2009 and those taking place now. In 2009, the protests were largely in the important cities of Iran, whereas now, they are much more extensive in nature engulfing many regions in the country. Another major area of difference is that in 2009, the protesters demanded that the votes be recounted over alleged electoral fraud and were not basically voicing the economic demands. The current protests however, nearly forty years after the 1979 Revolution, are marked by the concerns over the economy that have once again led the protesters out on the streets. The income and wealth inequities between social classes have reached their largest yet in Iran, and now protest slogans demand a regime change.
Unemployment in Iran is above 12 per cent, and more than double that among young people – 28.8 per cent. Spiralling poverty, deprivation, high prices and chronic unemployment have ruined the lives of a large portion of the population and in particular the youth. The sanctions imposed on Iran too have had a catastrophic impact on the economy and created an explosive situation in the country.
In the recent period, prices of various essential commodities have risen astronomically. The price of eggs, for example, has more than doubled in less than a year. The accumulating discontent among the people spilled out on the streets in the form of protest demonstrations. People are also questioning the oppressive policies of various State agencies like the Islamic Guards Corps, the Supreme Religious Leadership, the Majlis (parliament) and even the judiciary, which is essentially appointed by the Supreme Leader.
The growing frustration among the people can be understood from the reactions of the protesters. One protester in a city called Mashhad, one of the places to initiate the protests, stated: “We've had enough of life without jobs, life without money”. The economic hardships made the people question the very legitimacy of the present regime. Even highly political slogans like: “Death to the dictator” and “Down with the Islamic Republic” have been heard in the streets. The difference in the lifestyles of the elite, ruling classes, who despite the sanctions and other problems in the economy are living a life of plenty, while the middle-classes and the poor are struggling for their survival, also accentuated the popular anger. The rich natural resources of the country, like oil, are being exploited to serve the interests of these ruling classes, while the working class involved in the extraction of such resources are virtually starving. The people are so vexed with their lives that they are on the streets willing to take on the repressive State apparatus and this is indeed a significant development.
The Tudeh Party of Iran, banned in the country because of its adherence to Marxism-Leninism and theory of scientific socialism, immediately plunged into these popular protest demonstrations. In a series of statements and appeals issued to the people of Iran, the Party had called all the “progressive and freedom-loving forces of Iran to increase their presence in the protest movement of the masses – more than ever before – providing proper people-oriented slogans, offering sensible guidance and relying on the legitimate demands of the masses for abolishing the existing suppressive regime and ending the economic deprivation, oppression, injustice and plundering of the natural and human resources of the nation, while avoiding reactionary and divisive slogans”.
The Tudeh Party, rich from its heroic historical experiences also warned the people to be vigilant. “We should not let the past repeat itself whereby the heroic struggle of the nation for freedom, democracy and social justice is hijacked by a bunch of reactionary opportunists who do not believe in the people’s rights or democratic freedoms”.
In this background, it had welcomed the appeal of the youngsters playing a key role in the protests. “The slogans of the students at yesterday’s clashes calling for the united action of students, workers and other social strata, counted as one positive indication of such an understanding and the realisation of the urgency of the current critical situation. Without the united action of various social strata that are dissatisfied with the current situation, it is not certain that the brave street protests of the people – and particularly the younger generation – will achieve its ultimate success….we reiterate, the only way to confront and defeat the designs and plots of the regime is through a united action, organised struggle and joint movement of all social layers – from the workers and working people to the brave youth, students and women of the nation – and through the preparing of nationwide strikes and the paralysing of any possibilities the regime has to survive”.
The US and Israel have immediately jumped gleefully expressing support to the protests. Donald Trump rejoicing at the developments in Iran, tweeted: “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food and for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE.” This is indeed ominous. It is ironical for Trump to celebrate the protests in Iran as he himself is heading an administration, which is ruthlessly suppressing the protests of the Afro-Americans and the rights of immigrants. The US administration is desperately trying to wreak the nuclear deal signed with Iran and destabilise the country. It now wants to use the recent protests to ensure its objectives are achieved.
Similarly, Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu also supported the protests. He stated: “Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades”. This is the same Netanyahu, who is curtailing the freedom and liberties of Palestinians for decades and the irony cannot become any better.
Tudeh Party warned the people of the nefarious designs of the external imperialist forces, who are only waiting for an opportunity to destabilise the country and the region. In a statement issued by it, the Party had warned: “We deeply believe – and reiterate here – that the hypocritical support of such racist reactionaries as Trump; his vice president; some of the most right-wing forces of the US Republican Party; Netanyahu, the prime minister of the corrupt and anti-people government of Israel; and, long with the support of the criminal and reactionary regime of Saudi Arabia, for the struggle of the people of our nation, is not because of their belief in the need to improve the situation in our country or for the realisation of the people’s demands for freedom, democracy, and justice in Iran. Instead, its sole purpose is to destabilise the situation in the Middle East region and the Persian Gulf area in accordance with their strategic interests. The support of these anti-people governments for likewise reactionary forces, such as the monarchists or those who have already ‘elected’ a president and government for our people and who have repeatedly asked for foreign military intervention in Iran, is an indication of the dangerous game that is seriously threatening the movement for freedom in our nation and will serve only to help the regional reaction and the plots of the suppressive forces inside Iran”.
The Tudeh Party is justified in its criticism of external support extended by the imperialist forces. The recent history and the experiences of ‘support’ and intervention of imperialist forces for what started as expressions of popular anger, particularly in countries like Egypt and Syria in the region, is too blatant to ignore. Russia had immediately condemned and warned against any external interference in the internal affairs of Iran.
The protests in Iran are yet another reflection of the building anger among the people against the policies pursued by the respective governments to further neoliberal economic policies. The ruling classes are finding it hard to come out of the global economic crisis and are imposing ever increasing burdens on people. Iranian protesters demonstrate the will of the people to fight back such attacks. It is our bounden duty to support these protests. And we should not slacken our vigilance against imperialist intervention in the internal affairs for hijacking such protests to further its nefarious agenda.