The “Persian Winter” .. Anger and suffocation


The political regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, lasted for 30 years, before the so-called “Arab Spring” swept them away. The suffocating socio-economic conditions were the catalyst behind the protests that broke out across the Arab world, spreading not only from one city to another but from one country to another, like a wild fire. These protests, eventually, turned into political revolutions demanding the removal of existing political regimes. After the Arab spring, it seems that, a similar process, stimulated by suffocating socio-economic conditions, may be taking place across cities in Iran, leading to a possible “Persian Winter”.
On the eighth-year anniversary of the Green Revolution, the spark of the new protests came from the second largest Iranian city, Mashhad. The streets were flooded, with hundreds of Iranians, venting extreme fury towards failed internal and external policies, which have resulted in a tough time for Iranians across the country. Just two days after the spark in Mashhad, protests broke out in other cities such as Isfahan, and later in the capital city of Tehran. As in Mashhad, Iranians showed growing frustration over high food prices, increasing poverty levels, unemployment, and corruption, as well as disenchantment towards Iran’s growing external involvement in neighboring countries, resulting in an exhaustion of economic resources. The protesters chanted slogans such as “Death to the Dictator” and “Get out of Syria and take care of us,”. Also, they called on the rest of the Iranians to join the protests.
» Spontaneous crisis, or not?
The protests have been driven by poor socio-economic conditions, and the last straw, was the approval of Iran’s 2018 budget.
The draft budget includes decisions such as raising the price of petroleum by 50 percent and removing subsidies for more than 34 million people, which is estimated at 11$ per month per capita (approximately $ 4.5 billion a year in total) to overcome the state’s budget deficit. It seems that President Rouhani suggested the daft, so that most parliamentary members (the fundamentalists) can certify the budget and agree to raise the budgetary resources for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and institutions under the control of the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. In other words, plummeting the budget deficit will be at the expense of the poor and middle class, which constitute most of the Iranian people. Strangely, Iran’s decision to raise petroleum prices comes after the state had announced self-sufficiency in petroleum production following months of work at the “Najmat Khaleej” refinery.
Looking deeply into the existing situation, one realizes that Iranians have experienced tough socio-economic conditions over decades, resulting from economic sanctions. The sanctions peaked in 2012, as they included economic sectors vital to the Iranian economy, harming the standard of living and services. The sanctions included banning the export of Iranian oil, prohibiting the sale of technology/spare parts to Iran, a freeze on remittances to Iran, and depriving Iranian industry of important raw materials.
The sanctions, along with failed policies, led to several waves of price hikes in Iran. In 2013, price hikes reached around 40%, and although the inflation rate fell to 10% by the time President Rouhani finished his first term, the size of the poor did not shrink. The number of Iranians living in absolute poverty ranges from 10 to 12 million, approximately 15% of the population. With the pending removal of subsidies, the number of poor in Iran is expected to reach 54 million, more than 67% of the population. Despite, the Nuclear Agreement in 2016, unemployment levels have increased, especially amongst college graduates. The existence of one unemployed graduate among every three graduates, creates fertile ground for protests. The same scenario unfolded in the Arab Spring, likewise in Iran, during the student demonstrations in 2009.
The Iranian regime’s considerable expenditure on its external behavior and proxies in the region has worsened the situation in Iran. This has led to public backlash and fury towards Iranian decision makers. Therefore, it was no surprise, when the Iranian people chanted in the protests “get out of Syria and take care of us”. According to the Iranian National Council for Resistance, in Syria, the Iranian regime spends more than $ 1 billion a year on wages given to fighters from different countries. This amount is inclusive of military and financial support provided by Iran to the Syrian government.
» Is there any indication behind the start of the demonstrations from the city of Mashhad?
The outbreak of the demonstrations from the city of Mashhad reveals many double and hidden crises across Iranian cities. Mashhad is a holy city for Shiites, as it contains the shrine of “Imam Reza,” making it one of the most important economic and tourist cities in Iran. The city enjoys special privileges, given its religious significance, which should reflect in the standard of living in the city. However, to the amazement of the outside world, the Mashhad demonstrations were driven by poor socio-economic conditions, despite high levels of trade and tourism in the city. Given this Mashhad predicament, it is likely that the situation in other Iranian cities is to be much more bleak and dire. The demonstrations are likely to spread to other Iranian cities, which will be confirmed or denied in the coming days.
The speed and extent to which the demonstrations spread in Iran will depend on the reaction of the regime, will it try to contain or repress the demonstration via the utilization of its instruments of repression, such as the Basij and IRGC. The use of violence, as we saw in the “Arab Spring,” will only raise the ceiling of demands and increase popular protests, which can suddenly turn from socio-economic demands to political demands, such as the removal of the entire existing regime.

Editorial Team