Iran: Hard Times for Ayatollahs

Author : Mircea Birca | Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Posted in category Eurasia, Iran, Middle Orient
Comments Off on Iran: Hard Times for Ayatollahs

It is an irony that not even the most devoted supporters of the ayatollahs can ignore that a country such as Iran, that prides itself on being one of the world’s largest oil producers, is unable to produce enough fuel to satisfy the needs of its own population.

These are, moreover, hard times for the ayatollahs in many other respects. Not only are the leaders coming under pressure at home for their disastrous handling of the economy. They are also seeing their efforts to export Iran’s Islamic revolution to other corners of the Middle East being roundly rejected, with anti-Iran protests taking place in Iraq and Lebanon.

With the Iranian economy under such intense pressure as a result of the sanctions, however, the regime has little room for manoeuvre, so it faces a stark choice: either radically reform its conduct or continue to face the wrath of the Iranian people.

Any suggestion that the wide-ranging sanctions regime the Trump administration has imposed against Iran was not having the desired effect has been roundly refuted by the nationwide protests that have erupted in response to the regime’s decision to increase petrol prices.

Critics of American President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal last year and imposing a fresh round of sanctions against Tehran have argued that the measures would fail to have the desired effect, and claimed that the ayatollahs would be able to circumvent the sanctions by trading with countries such as China, that remained committed to the nuclear deal.

Those arguments have now been decisively proved wrong after Iranians took to the streets in towns and cities in their tens of thousands throughout the country in protest at the regime’s decision at the end of last week to raise the price of petrol by 50 percent, as well as rationing the amount drivers could purchase to 60 litres a month without being obliged to pay a higher premium.

It is an irony that not even the most devoted supporters of the ayatollahs can ignore that a country such as Iran, that prides itself on being one of the world’s largest oil producers, is unable to produce enough fuel to satisfy the needs of its own population.

While the requirement to raise fuel prices is deeply embarrassing for the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, however, it has not stopped the regime from responding with its characteristic brutality to anti-government protests.

Precise casualty figures are hard to come by, not least because the regime has responded to the latest protests by closing down access to the internet, the classic response one expects to see from an authoritarian state under pressure.

Unofficial reports compiled by Iranian exiles suggest that around 200 people have been killed and around 3,000 injured after Mr Rouhani ordered Iran’s security forces to deal with the protests, which he said amounted to rioting.

“People have the right to protest,” Mr Rouhani said shortly after the anti-government protests began, “but protests are different from riots. We should not allow insecurity in our society.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, went even further, claiming the protests were nothing more than “sabotage and arson” being carried out by “hooligans, not our people. The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so.”

As often happens when the Iranian regime finds itself under pressure, such as the Green Revolution in 2009, when there were mass protests against the result of the presidential election, the ayatollahs resort to the brute force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij, the IRGC’s volunteer militia, to crush dissent. The regime employed similar measures during the Green Revolution, when thousands of Iranian protesters, who were dismayed at the prospect of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad serving another four-year term of office, staged the largest anti-government protests Iran had witnessed since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

It is too early to say yet whether the current wave of protests will gather the same momentum, especially as the regime has become more adept at crushing anti-government opposition.

Regular outbursts of dissent have been reported throughout Tehran since the end of last year, mainly in response to the crippling effect the US sanctions regime is having on the economy, where inflation is running at around 40 percent, and the collapse in the value of the rial, the national currency, has caused dramatic rises in the cost of basic staples, with red meat and poultry rising by 57%, milk, cheese and eggs by 37%, and vegetables by 47%.

These are, moreover, hard times for the ayatollahs in many other respects. Not only are the leaders coming under pressure at home for their disastrous handling of the economy. They are also seeing their efforts to export Iran’s Islamic revolution to other corners of the Middle East being roundly rejected, with anti-Iran protests taking place in Iraq and Lebanon.

Indeed, fears that the protests currently taking place in Iran might spiral out of control, as they have done recently in both Iraq and Lebanon, has prompted some lawmakers in the Iranian parliament, or Majlis, to call for the increase in petrol prices to be reversed.

With the Iranian economy under such intense pressure as a result of the sanctions, however, the regime has little room for manoeuvre, so it faces a stark choice: either radically reform its conduct or continue to face the wrath of the Iranian people.

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