If the Iranian uprisings that took place during December 2017-January 2018, June-July 2018, and November 2019 are analyzed based on economic trends and public grievances, we can be sure that there will be uprisings in the future very soon. The Iranian government’s economic and foreign policies will push the country further into a swamp of crises, so we should expect bigger spontaneous public outbursts in the future. During Khamenei’s reign, many of the government’s decisions and policies have been in favor of powerful and wealthy groups (“insiders”). Now the “outsiders” feel that they have nothing to lose and are willing to risk their lives in order to express their grievances and discontent.
The level of inefficiency and corruption that exists today in Iran is exacerbating wealth inequalities and making people worse off. Therefore, in the near future, protests such as those that took place in November 2019 will be repeated; however, it is expected that a larger percentage of the Iranian population will participate in these protests. All socio-economic conditions point to the possibility of more protests, with Iranians no longer fearing the Basij and the IRGC. With the United States expected to increase its pressure on Tehran, economic problems are expected to worsen in the near future, which will add more fuel to the grievances that already exist among the Iranian population.
Based on economic and social conditions as well as the November 2019 uprisings, we are able to extrapolate and predict the nature of the future uprisings in order to answer four pertinent questions: What would be the future agenda of the protesters? What kind of tactics would the protesters employ? Who would the protesters consider as their friends and enemies? What will be their slogans?
The present Iranian protesters have gone way beyond the reformist agenda that was popular in the 1990s and 2000s. The reformist agenda was to strengthen civil society, promote the rule of law and liberalize the Iranian political system. The reformist camp failed to deliver on any part of its agenda. Iranians who voted for Khatami believed that the ballot box was the best way for change. Khamenei and the IRGC proved them wrong. The new generation is not convinced that the ballot box can initiate reform in Iran’s political system. Now the majority of Iranians have lost faith in the reformist camp; protesters today are aware that any political, economic, social and cultural reforms are impossible as long as the Shi`i Islamists are in power in Tehran.
II- Friends and Enemies
As the slogans show, Iranian protesters consider the West and the Pahlavi family as their allies. The protestors consider the government and its different factions, whether the hardliners or the reformists, as public enemies. Forty years of anti-Western propaganda and brainwashing via the educational system to present the West as evil have not been successful; the protesters during the November 2019 uprisings did not believe in this narrative spun by the Iranian government.
Peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, and strikes have never achieved anything in Iran. These are forbidden unless a license is approved by the Iranian government, something that never happens for the “outsiders.” This is why the reformists became frustrated and eventually left the political scene except for a few professional politicians who have been co-opted by the Iranian establishment. These politicians can no longer sell reformism as a way out of Iran’s multiple and complicated crises.
People who lost hope in Iran’s political and religious system used three tactics to show their discontent during the November 2019 uprisings: 1) They blocked roads and ruined road signs, 2) Burned religious institutions such as Shi`i seminaries and the offices of Friday prayer leaders, and 3) Shut down the financial system. All these tactics were directed toward fulfilling one key objective: shutting down the country and bringing the economy to a standstill. The protesters believed that this was the only way to oust the Islamist government. The employment of these tactics highlights the fact that the protesters do not view Iran’s existing financial and religious institutions as operating in their interests.
Iranian protests that are not organized and sponsored by the government (mainly the Islamic Propaganda Organization) are devoid of religious slogans and rhetoric. Iranians who are against the government’s policies and decisions do not resort to Islamic ideology to express their grievances and needs. There were three basic slogans during the Iranian protests of December 2017-January 2018, June-July 2018 and November 2019: the revival of the national government (“Reza Shah, rest in peace”), the rejection of mixing religion and politics (“the mullahs must get lost”), and the end of hostility to the West (“our enemy is here”). The ideas behind these three slogans are very important for national coordination and unity in the post-Islamic government era. We can expect to hear the same slogans in future protests.
After the November 2019 uprisings were suppressed, the gulf between the state and society deepened and widened. Therefore, if the Iranian government increases the economic burden on the Iranian population, this is likely to trigger more unrest in the future. Considering the depletion of Iran’s reserve funds, and US sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors , as well as the mammoth financial outlay to fund Iran’s interference in the affairs of regional countries, the Iranian government was forced to increase the financial burden on the Iranian people by tripling the price of gasoline. This was the trigger that unleashed the recent protests. Former Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC Mohammad Ali Ja`fari blamed the Rouhani administration for the uprisings. Another uprising could easily happen again in the near future. The dominant slogans and tactics of the protesters will be the same as the November 2019 uprisings.