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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 6 New Delhi January 27, 2018 - Republic Day Special

Iran quiet after Protests

Saturday 27 January 2018, by Harish Chandola

After about 20 deaths in protests in December, Iran appears to have quietened down. The economic stress in its countryside, however, continues. It was the rise in the price of eggs which had sparked violent demonstrations in its second largest city of Mashhad on December 28, which had led to unrest in several other places.

A draft budget presented to Parliament in December had led to a considerable increase in funds of foundations of the Ayatollahs (religious leaders) and expenses of the country’s Revolutionary Guards.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards continue to operate in Syria, Lebanon,Yemen and Gaza and vast expenses of them have caused economic stress in the country, affecting subsidies to the poor and needs of the people, who started protests and demanding fresh elections, though President Hassan Rouhani was elected only last year.

Some rallies had turned violent, though not all. Frustration over the economic situation has been voiced since Rouhani’s victory in May, though he had promised an inclusive, open and reformed Iran. His Cabinet excluded women and Sunnis. [Iran is a Shi’a country.]

Counter demonstrations in support of the regime had started taking place, in capital Tehran from January 3.

Pent-up economic grievances were the cause of the December unrest. Factory workers had gone on strike over unpaid wages and pensioners had protested over low payments. Those who led the protest marches wondered why much of the country’s wealth was being spent in support of rebels in Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza and the Syrian regime, while the Iranian rural areas were being neglected. The unemployment rate in the country was about 12 per cent.

US President Trump has been threatening to re-impose sanctions on Iran for suspected development of its missiles after giving up its nuclear programme it had signed in 2015. The stoppage of its nuclear programme had brought it oil-based growth but not a promised broad growth. The US has started accusing it of missile development, for which it wants to reimpose its sanctions.

Countries of the European Union are however opposed to the US move. In fact the French President, Emmanuel Macron, was likely to pay a visit to Iran, that has been postponed, along with a visit of its Foreign Minister.

In last year’s elections a large number of Iranians had voted; this made it look like the most vibrant democracy in the region, except of course Israel.

The author is a veteran journalist with wide knowledge of developments in West Asia and the Arab world.

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