What's at play in Iranian protests? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 01, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 01, 2018

What's at play in Iranian protests?

The largest public display of discontent in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement has brought about a series of tweets from US President Donald Trump, pushback from the Iranian government and a scene that might have been unfathomable a decade ago -- protesters challenging the rule of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.


The protests, which began Thursday night, are a reaction to the sputtering economy, rampant corruption and rising fuel and food prices. But there's something larger at play. Iranians are angry, experts say, because they expected life to get better when severe sanctions were lifted after a deal was reached in 2015 between the P5+1 and Iran over its nuclear program. The P5+1 is the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, and other experts say endemic economic mismanagement and corruption have left Iranians disenchanted.


No. Years of political, economic and social grievances have driven citizens to the streets in the largest protests since 2009, said Reza Marashi, research director for the National Iranian American Council. "Economic sanctions have exacerbated all of those Iranian-origin economic problems," he said. "I don't think you can separate the economic from the political," he told CNN. Alireza Nader, a senior international analyst and Iran researcher at the RAND Corporation in Washington, says people have also lost trust in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.


While the new protests are intense, thus far they are nowhere as big as what occurred in 2009's Green Movement, in which millions took part. Marashi said this may be more of a civil rights movement than a revolutionary one. There are other distinctions. While the 2009 protests primarily occurred in Tehran, this week's came in government strongholds, such as Qom and Mashhad, known as stout religious centers. And this wave of protests seems to be a direct challenge to the rule of the Supreme Leader.


The consensus from experts: US President Donald Trump's tweets about the situation are not helpful. Rather, they say, the world should show solidarity with the Iranian people by supporting freedom of expression. Trump has tweeted "The world is watching!" and that "oppressive regimes cannot endure forever." The President said the Iranian leadership is squandering wealth in order to fund terrorism elsewhere. Marashi said the protest movement "is of an Iranian origin and it will be of an Iranian ending."


The 2009 Green Movement lasted for months; this round of protests is only days old. It's unclear just how much dissent the government will allow. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "In 1979, Iranians experienced a revolution without democracy; today they aspire for democracy without a revolution." He expanded on that, telling CNN that he believes a young Iranian society is seeking a more liberal, progressive nation, but is unlikely to take up arms -- even if any were available.


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