Flagging economy triggers protests in Iran

By Fan Lilang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/7 18:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The wave of protests that began on December 28 in Mashhad has spread to many other cities. Till now, at least 21 people, including a police officer and a Revolutionary Guardsman, have been killed and more than 1,000 people arrested. Anti-government demonstrations this time have been the largest since 2009, challenging the Islamic government.

The protests are mainly targeted at rising food and gasoline prices as well as the poor economy. It has been reported that prices of necessities like eggs have increased by 40 percent over the past several months and the youth unemployment rate has been high for long.

Iran's history and language differ from Arab countries. What's more, in most Arabic countries, Shiite Muslims constitute a minority of the two main sub-groups within Islam. This leads to many sectarian conflicts between Iran and the Arab countries. However, as a strong power in the Middle East, Iran has been involved in Arab affairs, such as the Palestine-Israel issue, the Lebanese civil war and the Iraq conflict. 

After Hassan Rouhani's re-election in May, people expected the Iranian economy to change for the better. With the wipeout of the Islamic State, a Shiite corridor connecting Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is forming, so the future of Iran can be said to be really bright. But because Iran is vital to the corridor, anti-government protests this time may lead to Shiite fury, affecting the stability of the region to some extent.

The chaos in Iran makes people think of the Arab Spring that erupted in 2010. It was caused by a rather small incident but spread across the Middle East and the instability exists till this day. People's craving for a better livelihood and democracy were the main demands that triggered the Arab Spring. The problems that led to protests in Iran this time are similar to the reasons that caused the Arab Spring. The country is centralized and people need political freedom. Inflation is galloping, commodity prices are high and people struggle for a decent living.

For decades, the Iran nuclear issue was the main reason for sanctions slapped on the country. This led to the country selling oil at a low price which caused economic damage. Iranian foreign trade has also been limited for years, leading to very high inflation. Besides, governance with religious law makes Iran distinct from the world. All facets of people's lives are controlled by religion, which has generated discontent.

Lack of democracy in the Middle East has been criticized by international media. People in the region live in highly centralized societies, like that in Saudi Arabia. Protests in Iran may influence people in the region, causing instability in other countries like Iraq governed by Shiite rulers and Lebanon where Hezbollah wants to grab power.

Economy and livelihood have been difficult problems the Middle East faced for decades. Like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia which is rich in oil, many countries in the region suffer from economic issues, and Iranian protests this time may influence these countries. Because of the protests in Iran, the Middle East may face more economic challenges and hurdles in achieving better livelihood and social stability.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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