Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam describes turbulence in Iran
Iranians also protesting against inflation not only in Pakistan and Sri Lanka where people are protesting against soaring inflation but Iran has also been in the grip of angry street runs complaining of exorbitant price rises all over the country. The problem with such protests in Iran is that they begin on the pretext of some economic discomfiture and ultimately transform into political agitation causing alarm in the ranks of the clerical regime of the country that is finding it increasingly difficult to keep matters under control. The Iranian regime therefore keeps a tight control on all aspects of life that further complicates matters. Iran is managed by a cabal of clerics that has proved quite adept at governing the country with a mixture of religion and strong-arm tactics and has survived since 1979 despite going through numerous troubles.
It is reported that in early May protests erupted across some of Iran’s poorer cities after the government cut state subsidies on food causing prices to shoot up by 300% for several flour-based staples. The price of other basic goods, like cooking oil and dairy products, also spiked. The government said the move was aimed at redistributing subsidies to lower-income people. The government also cut subsidies for basic goods including cooking oil and dairy products in a move it has described its decision as fair redistribution of subsidies to lower-income people. The subsidy changes, aimed at controlling the prices of basic goods, were introduced by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in an attempt to alleviate the effect of a rise in global wheat prices and US sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Large crowds took to the streets of the southwestern Khuzestan province to protest a hike in prices, with protests later spreading to other provinces. Most of the protesters have been public-sector workers including teachers and drivers. Reports came out of intense clashes in cities including Farsan in central Iran where riot police fired live rounds at demonstrators. In Shahr-e-Kord and Hafshejan, security forces used teargas and clubs to disperse the protesters. The protestors in the southern city of Dezful were chanting:” Fear not, fear not, we are in this together.” The unconfirmed reports mentioned names of five people they said were killed during the protests in the Khuzistan, Chaharmahal, and Bakhtiari provinces.
Almost half of Iran’s population of 85 million lives under poverty line and the situation has been exacerbated due to rising inflation, growing unemployment, a slump in the national currency and state corruption with US sanctions further crippling the economy. It is widely held that the current protests have echoes of 2019 when many took to the streets over fuel price hikes in protests that became the deadliest since the Islamic Republic’s founding in 1979. Iran’s economy, crippled by Western sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic, was already struggling to cope. It is reported that Iran is one of the top global wheat importers, relying on Russia and Ukraine for almost 40% of its wheat supplies.
Since its oil was sanctioned by America in 2018, Iran has relied on Chinese buyers but its crude exports to China have fallen sharply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with Beijing increasingly leaning toward Russia’s discounted barrels. Iran’s oil sales have been very badly affected by the Ukraine war that has brought in its wake discounted Russian oil and gas exports to China making it harder for Iran to sell hydrocarbons to its primary trading partner.
The protests also come as Iran tries to revive a 2015 deal with world powers that curbed Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for sanctions relief. A worsening economic situation may increase the urgency in Iran to reach a deal but Iran has so far stood firm on its demands. The Iranian government planned its annual budget with the expectation of higher oil revenues and potential relief in sanctions but as either of these now seems unlikely the government is left with no option to adopt austerity measures and decisions to cut back on social expenditures in the near future.
The Iranian government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings and confirmed arrests of dozens of rioters and provocateurs. As is always feared by the regime protesters have expanded their demands, calling for more political freedom, an end to the Islamic Republic and the downfall of its leaders. Social media footage showed protesters burning pictures of Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and chanting “We don’t want the rule of the clerics.” As a measure to assert their dominance the regime mobilised tens of thousands of supporters in a domestic show of force after weeks of price protests turned violent, leading to nationwide arrests and injuries. The state media reported that thousands of pro-government supporters rallied outside Tehran, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia. TW