Iran has seen unprecedented mass protests over the high cost of basic goods.
Within just six months, the price of eggs has gone up by 40%. The protesters say it’s high time for the incumbent regime to focus on domestic issues and to forget about Syria and Palestine.
Given this backdrop, the question that naturally comes next is: The protests that the world is seeing -- are they a genuine outcry over bad economy deteriorating living standards or is this something politically motivated?
The answer is, it’s obviously both -- if one looks at the real grievances in Iran as well as at the slogans that were taunted all across the country. These slogans are not new information, if not in protests taking over the streets in Tehran, these slogans have still been true and alive for the last few years.
Iranian grievances have been overlooked by Iran’s governance because Rouhani’s economic policies have been a failure; and although Iran experienced GDP growth, this GDP growth has not been inclusive.
Needless to say, economists have also found an uptick in both poverty and income equality during the past few years. Another important thing to note is that the promises that Rouhani made in terms of the revitalisation of trade with the outside world -- which was meant to trickle down to Iranians in terms of better socio-economic conditions -- have not materialised.
Thus, there has been a lot of frustration in the lower and middle strata of society in relation to failed economic policies, and so there was something simmering below the surface.
What we have to be aware of is that blame has to be put on both the government and the hardliners who control the bulk of Iran’s state institutions. The problem with Rouhani’s economic policy is it is neo-liberal, without addressing the social and economic issues in Iran.
When it comes to economic development, the Trump factor is equally important to better understand the current sorry state of the economy of Iran
Almost half of the Iranian population lives around the poverty line, and it has not been one of Rouhani’s interests to tackle. On the other hand, the right-wing conservatives and populist who pretend to care about Iranian lives do nothing to change the ways of life when they assume powerful positions.
Frankly speaking, both sides are to blame for this socio-economic malaise that Iran finds itself in; and the chants from many of the protesters also reflect this dual-disc criticism in relation to the factions of the Iranian regime.
Analysts have to face fundamental problems when it comes to discussing Iranian politics. We tend to think of Iran as having different factions of the elite; one being the reformists or the centrists that are now seem to be in power.
On the other hand, we see the right-wing conservatives and populists -- but in reality, both factions are in the same boat. After all, they have more common ground than differences, and the prime example of this is the budget of President Rouhani.
The budget also gives a lot of money to the government’s so-called opponents, and so, for instance, the IRGC has seen massive increase in funds and other so-called religious groups have benefitted from the budget hearing of President Rouhani.
So, all this talk of factionalism is quite overblown and, at the end of the day, all the factions sit in the same boat and this boat is called “regime survival.”
The Trump factor
Over the last year, Trump has single-handedly contributed to a new sense of anti-Americanism among various segments of Iranian civil society. The leading cause of this phenomenon is basically Trump’s ideological approach to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (the P5), plus Germany.
The de-certification probably happened by mid-January. This will perhaps be accompanied by the end of sanction rally from the US and this would put the entire nuclear deal on the verge of collapse.
Given the current American kind of antagonism towards Iran and given what is happening right now in Washington, Iran has kind of lost its appeal for international investment. Trump’s administration itself has created many problems for international investors and also for the Iranian economy.
What is noteworthy is that we have to scrutinise the current policies of the Iranian government, and when it comes to economic development, the Trump factor is equally important to better understand the current sorry state of the economy of Iran.
Md Sharif Hasan is a commentator on international politics, and is currently working as a field researcher on behalf of the Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS), University of Dhaka.