Iran: Is austerity the real cause of the protests?

Ⓒ AFP – STR – | Iranian woman throws fists in tear gas smoke during protest in Tehran, December 30, 2017

Despite anti-regime slogans launched by protesters in Iran, experts believe that the current protest movement is born of the same feeling of anger that stirred other countries hit by austerity.

“What drives Iranians down the street most often are ordinary economic problems – frustration at the lack of jobs, uncertainty about the future of their children,” AFP told AFP. Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Europe-Iran Business Forum.

According to this expert, the unrest of recent days has been provoked by the austerity measures of President Hassan Rohani since he came to power in 2013, such as cuts in social budgets or increases in fuel prices announced a few weeks ago. .

“For Rohani, the austerity budgets are certainly difficult to pass but they are necessary measures against inflation and currency problems and to try to improve the attractiveness of Iran for investment “, says Mr Batmanghelidj.

However, “after a very difficult period of sanctions, austerity can only begin the patience of people”.

The protests erupted Thursday in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, before spreading across the country. Six people died in protests that escalated into violence in several places, and dozens were arrested.

Slogans such as “Death to the dictator” and attacks on the regime’s symbols have given the protests – the most important since those of 2009 – an air of revolution.

The government has accused “foreign-based” elements from abroad of stirring up the protest movement.

Some also suspect the conservatives, rival of the moderate current which includes Mr. Rohani, to want to sabotage the economic policy of the government at the risk of triggering a movement that could become difficult to control.

“There is evidence, particularly in Machhad, that the demonstrations were being organized to mark political points,” Tehran-based expert Tasnim Amir Mohebbian told IRIN.

He stressed that the organizers of this movement “obviously did not anticipate that it would take on such a scale, we can not play with protest movements”.

– Banks collapsing –

Nevertheless, anger over the economic situation has been palpable for some years and dominated the last elections in May.

Small movements have taken place: in recent weeks, the union-related agency ILNA has reported on the protests of several hundred oil industry employees for late payments, as well as tractor manufacturers in Tabriz against the closure. from their factory.

Anger only increased with the collapse of credit companies that affected millions of investors.

These companies multiplied under the mandate of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and collapsed when the housing bubble exploded.

“I am not surprised by these protests, we have had street parades against banks and credit unions in the last two years,” said Tehran-based political scientist Mojtaba Mousavi.

“Everyone says that the protesters come from disadvantaged classes but many protesters are part of the middle class who lost a lot of his assets,” he told AFP.

– Right to protest –

Despite the obvious economic causes, grievances about restrictions on civil liberties are still relevant.

Even within the conservative political class, it is recognized that Iranians have little space to voice their complaints.

“Our Constitution recognizes the right to protest but in practice there is no mechanism to do so,” said Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghddam, spokesman for the Association of Combating Clergy (conservative) at the ISNA agency.

“The leaders must listen to the people, and the media also have the responsibility to cover the protests.”

On Sunday, Mr. Rohani himself advocated “a space” for the people to express their “daily concerns”.

Ⓒ TASNIM NEWS/AFP – HAMED MALEKPOUR – | Iranians demonstrate in support of the government in the capital Tehran, December 30, 2017

Some experts doubt that the demonstrations could be a serious threat to the regime, believing that they do not seem to obey a clear organization.

Political slogans are seen as a boon for the regime, allowing it to suppress protesters by accusing them of anti-social and violent elements.

“The system prefers political demonstrations rather than those created for economic reasons because they are easier to control,” says Mousavi.

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