Foreign meddling not needed in Iran unrest

By Shu Meng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/3 18:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

In the New Year, what the streets of Iran ushered in were not celebrations but protests that started as the previous year drew to a close. At least 20 people were dead and dozens arrested as of Tuesday afternoon as unrest grew on the streets.

Internal and external factors are responsible for the wave of protests. Incitement by external forces, especially the US and Saudi Arabia, has been seen to be behind the expression of violent discontent.

Saudi Arabia, Iran's perennial rival, is believed to be supporting Kurdish rebels in Iran by providing weapons. The protests originated in Kermanshah, a predominantly Kurdish city. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also accused Saudi Arabia of fomenting the turmoil in his speech to the Iranian Parliament in Tehran.

The degree of US involvement in the unrest, however, is not certain. Yet US President Donald Trump backed protesters in a series of tweets and said that Washington is keeping an eye on whether the rights of protesters have been violated.

The external forces have not suddenly emerged in recent years, but have their roots in the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Demonstrations had erupted earlier in Iran's second largest city Mashhad, a crucial point of protests this time.

But those protests did not turn out to be as bloody as the current ones.

The fundamental reasons of the protests lie in social change and economic downturn in the Middle East country. Tehran has been confronted with a dilemma in recent years.

The drive for social change has continuously strengthened with the people's will for reform becoming increasingly tenacious, but the reformist government fails to respond effectively to this appeal since coming to power. As the demographic structure of Iran changes, the number of young people continues to grow. The young population is playing an important role in driving the demonstrations. In the meantime, Iran's economic environment has failed to improve since it signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Prices of necessities are on the rise as unemployment continues to grow.

According to Bloomberg, frustration caused by the high cost of living triggered the protests, which reflected people's demands for a better life.

In this unstable internal environment, even a small stimulus can trigger a wave of demonstrations, and external forces can fan the fire.

Though the unrest is widespread with a large number of protesters, it is unlikely to pose a direct threat to Iranian regime.

Demonstrators are demanding an end to corruption, religious conservative ideas, over-commitment to regional issues and better economic policies. The protests do not seem to be united in a voice and the demands sound disparate, indicating a lack of consolidation. The people's dissatisfaction comes from the lingering status quo and they want change. Hence, it is unlikely that there will be any attempt at regime change in the short term.

The wave of discontent once again highlights Iran's awkward struggle with tradition and reform.

Like many other Middle East countries, Iran has been seeking its own path of development and transformation with the changing times.

The protests are now controllable, and whether they will continue to fester in the future depends on whether the Iranian government can develop its economy and improve people's livelihood within the existing institutional framework, taking the push for social change into consideration. After all, the internal causes are fundamental to the turmoil.

In such troubled times for Iran, intervention by the outside world will not help. After all, no one wants to see a disturbed Iran becoming a new hotspot for regional turmoil.

The author is an assistant researcher at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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