The wave of protests in Iran began on December 28, during a demonstration in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, against the President Hassan Rouhani. The protests quickly escalated across the country in all major cities, including Tehran, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Hamedan, Rasht, Qom, Sari, with Iranian people calling for the religious establishment to step down. In Mashhad people called for the “death of the dictator” (Ali Khamenei), which is a serious matter for an Islamic country where the supreme leader holds complete authority.
People have taken to the streets for six consecutive days and Iranian security forces struggle to contain the largest protest since 2009 presidential election, when Iranians protested against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection. The death toll have risen to 21 people nationwide on Tuesday, as reported by state television, while clashes with police have intensified. All major news are being reported by state-controlled media and is difficult to confirm those reports independently.
On Saturday the government temporarily blocked many social networks, including Telegram and Instagram, which had been used by people to organize some of the anti-government protests. In the same day President Hassan Rouhan said “Iranians had the right to criticize but must not cause unrest”.
Why Iranians are protesting
The main factors fuelling the protests seem to be economic. Unemployment in Iran is at 12.4% and many university graduates struggle to find a job, while those who find one get paid sporadically. Poverty has increased since 2014 due to a decline social assistance in real terms, and between 44.5 percent and 55 percent of Iran’s urban population is living below the poverty line, showed the report “Measurement and Economic Analysis of Urban Poverty”.
Furthermore, inflation keeps rising and in November rose on 9.6 percent year-on-year, recording the highest inflation rate since July 2017, while most citizens must take on several jobs in order to survive.
Iran is the second largest economy of MENA region after Saudi Arabia, and in 2016 the Iranian economy bounced back at an estimated 6.4 percent, benefiting from the removal of oil sanctions and a recovery in exports. However, most people are not benefiting from the sanctions removal as the government is implementing a series of structural reforms to fight its debt problems.
Rouhani’s opponents often accused his administration of having ignored the poorest, and during the election campaign they promised to create millions of jobs and triple monthly cash payments to low-income families.
The corruption is killing the country
In Iran there’s a powerful system of political patronage and nepotism that pervades all sectors – including the judicial system, the police, the public sectors – and is killing the country. Rich people are often spared prosecution or fare well in trials, while public funds often find their way into few individual’s hands.