January 1, 2018

Iran: a Stormy December

Vadym Volokhov

The end of December 2017 in Iran was hot. Mass spontaneous meetings sparked nearly in all major cities. The protests began in the East of Iran, in the 3-million Mashhad on December 28. The protesters opposed the rise in prices, unemployment, and economic policy of the government headed by President Hassan Rouhani. “Forget about Syria, think about us”, — chanted the protesters.

Not accidentally people mention Syria. The mass mobilization of volunteers to the Syrian war (actually “for food”) has become a big irritant for the poorest people of Iran, and the return of dozens of coffins does not contribute to improving the situation.

Earlier, the official leadership of the aviation capital of Iran — Isfahan warned about the aggravation of the situation in the city, which was caused by an increase in unemployment. Thus, over the last 9 months of 2017, about 27,000 Isfahan residents lost their jobs. A similar situation has arisen in other large cities of Iran.

Very quickly rallies began in other cities, including Isfahan, Kermanshah, Rasht, Yazd, Qom, Hamadan, Arak, Kashan. In several cities, power is in the hands of the people.

In Tehran, collisions began at the student campus of Tehran University. Later, the protests began in the streets of the capital. The police used tear gas and water cannons.

Almost everywhere, economic slogans quickly changed to political ones. People are protesting against Iran's expansionist policies in the Middle East region, against Iran's participation in the war in Syria and Iraq.

At the same time, there begins some coordination of the actions of the protestors, a stage of self-organization is taking place, but its low level is the main problem. By the way, today's mass demonstrations of the population are considered the most massive since the “Green Revolution” of 2009.

The Iranian opposition has not made a statement yet. Apparently waiting for further development of the situation.

Only People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK, Mujahideen-e Khalq) has begun to manifest itself. This is an anticlerical radical group of left-wingers, but it has no chance to lead the people's movement. During the Iranian-Iraqi war, MEK fighters fought against the “Iranian regime of mullahs” on Saddam Hussein's side, and Iranians will never forgive anyone for that.

Since December 30, the authorities have been trying to take the situation under control. The IRGC's military equipment, special police units and anti-terrorist units were brought to Tehran and other large cities. But so far they can't take control of the situation. Meetings arise spontaneously, after dispersal in one place the protesters quickly gather in another. The government still lacks force, but its actions are getting more organized. The shock after the first meetings is already gone.

According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), President of Iran H. Rouhani addressed the population of the country on the fourth day of unrests. He acknowledged that people have the right to criticize, but said the authorities would not tolerate violence and destroying public properties.

In order to prevent organization of protests, the authorities have completely blocked the Internet, Telegram and Instagram messengers in the territory of Iran. Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi accused the Amad News Agency of appeals for “armed confrontation and civil disobedience with the use of “Molotov's cocktails”, and it was immediately banned.

The question now is whether the authorities will take the risk of giving orders to shoot and rigorously clear away the meetings and demonstrations. There is information already about mobilization of parts of the “Basij” militia and the IRGC's reserve, which are able to begin with the police active actions against the protesters.

Commander of the special “Quds Force” in the IRGC General Qasem Soleimani, who actually constantly was in Syria, has recently returned to Iran.

Dozens of people have already been arrested. There are reports of several people killed by militants in Lorestan Province.

The problem is that it is risky to throw regular units of the army and the IRGC against the people, but there are not enough so-called “titushki” (thugs for hire-trans), since a significant number of them are now in Syria and Iraq “fighting for IRI's regional ambitions”.

The Army has already declared its non-interference in the events and refused to use weapons against the protesters.

Foreign leaders are so far refraining from commenting on events in Iran.

So, it is too early to talk about catastrophic consequences and prospects of people's protests, but it is safe to say that there is a clear tendency towards further aggravation of the situation in the country against the background of shaky equilibrium.