Iran has experienced massive riots and protests across the country in the past few days as a result of the government’s decision to raise gasoline prices by 50%. This past Sunday, Supreme Leader Khamenei, who has the final say in all of the government’s decisions, approved this spike in gas prices while cautioning officials to not raise the prices of other valuable products. This abrupt spike is in retaliation to tariffs pushed by the U.S. against Iran’s energy sector and is supposed to raise money to subsidize low-income families.
Unsurprisingly, the Iranian people are not convinced of this policy’s merits. The government promises that the revenue generated from these hikes will go to aid about 60 million people, or 18 million households. In 2015, it was estimated that 40% of Iranians live below the poverty line and that around 30% of youth, who are eligible to work, are unemployed; contrast this with Iran’s high cost of living, and it’s easy to see why people are crying for reform. This redistributive program is an idealist way to reduce Iran’s poverty rates, but the government has failed to provide transparency as to how they plan to implement this and to which households will be impacted.
Nearly all of Iran’s engulfing, nation-wide protests and riots begin out of acute economic disruption; in this case, the recent hikes in gas prices will likely lead to economic hardships in the lives of many Iranians. The severe set of demonstrations and riots lasting for 10 days between December 2017 and January 2018 was largely caused by the regime’s allocation of money from the Iran Deal into religious institutions, the Revolutionary Guard’s foreign operations, and the pockets of the elite.
The economic conditions of Iran are inarguably a major factor for people’s discontent. However, the underlying cause behind all these riots is the people’s lack of political expression and representation.
Iran’s political system should be indicted first and foremost. Iran is democratic in the sense that they hold regular elections. However, these elections are heavily influenced by Khameini and his cronies, most notably the Guardian Council, an unelected bureau that frequently disqualifies reformist candidates under the provision that they are not dedicated to Islamic values.
President Rouhani is a moderate, but his power and authority are limited as Khameini holds absolute power and controls numerous unelected institutions subordinate to his will. Iran’s Parliament, or Majlis, has important powers, but they are severely constrained as the Guardian Council has to approve candidates, as well as approve of the nature of bills before they can be formally brought into Parliament. The major implication of this system is that reform through conventional, “representative” methods is nearly impossible. Below is a useful graph provided by the BBC that visually outlines Iran’s complex political system:
Why do riots and violent demonstrations happen in the first place? If these protesters are reform-minded, but not necessarily radical, then why do they choose such radical and relentless actions to express their moderate beliefs? Looking back at history, it’s easier to see why revolutions and widespread demonstrations like those happening now in Iran are happening.
People who want reform, whether mild or severe, look for a voice representing their desires and needs. Poor economic conditions that grow steadily worse, in contrast to a power-hungry regime who repress the people’s voices, only make these reformers more angry and resentful of those currently in power, and such an action leads to revolt when elections and protests cannot work. Khameini can label the protesters as “thugs” all he wants, but, if his regime is going to keep putting their interests first at the expense of the people, then he can expect even more demonstrations in the future.
What makes these protests different from previous ones isn’t that they are widespread. This series of protests is bigger than the 2017-2018 series, but they are both considerably widespread.
The government’s methods of cracking down on the protests are much more severe than before, and it’s a sign that Iran’s political situation is rapidly deteriorating. Amnesty International estimated that over 100 civilians have been killed by Iranian security forces so far. These security forces are liberally using live ammunition, water cannons, tear gas, and other brutal mechanisms as they crack down on protesters. Contrast this with the people’s initial reactions of burning banks, destroying statues of Khamenei (reminiscent of de-Stalinization in Eastern Europe during the 1950s), and other major symbols and representations of the Khamenei regime that have been sacredly held for 30 years now. In addition, the government instituted a total blackout of the Internet entirely, showing their inability to repress the people’s organization, as well as their fear of being held accountable by foreign governments.
As Americans, we regularly take our freedom for granted and we rarely live with nation-wide riots. We should be thankful for our system of politics, however flawed it may be, that it allows our voices to be heard without fear of a massive government crackdown, and we should be backing the people of Iran in their legitimate campaign to have their voices heard against the Khameini regime.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.