Come From Away: Understanding the protests in Iran

Iran started the new year with protests against its government in 80 different cities.

The protesters, who are mostly under 30-years-old, took the streets of Iran after Iranian government’s budget was leaked to the media at the end of December and showed huge signs of corruption.

A large amount of the money was going directly to President Bashar Al Assad’s administration.

The military budget was increased because Iran is funnelling Shiite groups around the region, such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen or the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Professor Shaun Narine, who teaches international relations at St. Thomas University, said a lot of money is being made and shown off by the Iranian elite.

“There is a great deal for the working class people to be upset about,” he said.

“However, when the budget came out and they saw how it was being displayed, it wasn’t just about foreign policy. It was about everything.”

The Aquinian reached out to Iranian students, but none would speak on record. One student said they didn’t want to end up in jail for speaking out when they returned to their home country.

About half of Iran’s population is under 30 years of age and the unemployment rate among that group varies between 30 and 40 per cent.

Though the protests were short-lived, ending in the first week of January, at least 23 people have died and 1,000 have been arrested.

“They feel the government is misusing this money, neglecting them and certainly not delivering on its promises,” Narine said.

Trump ‘tweets up’

In reaction to the protests in Iran, Trump tweeted change needs to be made.

But Narine said what Trump says has no credibility because the president has been trying to ban Muslims, with emphasis on Iranian Muslims, from entering the United States.

“This is just another example of him undermining the very things he claims to support,” Narine said.

“It’s usually the case that when an American president says something about internal politics in Iran, it’s counterproductive and it hurts whatever group he’s trying to support.”

A series of protests in 2009, now known as the Green Revolution, took place against the Iranian presidential results that gave the winning vote to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Former U.S. president Barack Obama remained quiet, which was the right thing to do, according to Narine.

“In this case, the damage was probably exacerbated by the fact that it was Donald Trump making these comments.”

Social media protests

Iranian protesters used the app Telegram as a means of communication and organization. Its use contributed to the spread of the protests throughout 80 cities.

The government shut down Telegram on Dec. 31 and access to internet was cut off in many cities.

“As long as governments have that capacity then their ability to patrol the effects of social media will be quite pronounced,” Narine says.

Narine believes social media has a much more powerful effect in countries like the U.S. or Canada because no governments have tried to shut them down during protests.

“For a foreign state like Iran, I am not convinced that [social media] matters that much, at least not after a few days.”

‘The whole thing will fall apart’

Narine believes the Iranian government will keep ruling for approximately 20 more years but no more than that.

“A great number of people do not support the regime and if those controls are loosened, the thing would probably begin to fall apart from the side,” Narine said.

“Now, you have got the people who have been the backbone of the hardline government rebelling and saying, ‘We are tired of everything.’”

The fact the government has less support doesn’t mean there will be positive reform in the country. Rather, chaos will continue to ensue. Many Iranians fear their country will follow Syria’s steps. That fear is what may end up giving the government a longer life.

“I fully expect within my life time the whole thing will fall apart,” said Narine.

“[The government] has succeeded in alienating much of their population, particularly the young educated youth, and that’s going to have consequences.”

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