By Majid Mohammadi
In the coming weeks and months, Iran will probably experience more nationwide civil disobedience similar to the wave of protests in October over a massive fuel price hike that left more than 200 dead and scores of others injured.
The prevailing political, social, and cultural climate in the country favors more unrest, given that people have shed their fears of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Basij volunteer militias that have brutalized protesters in recent years.
Stringent U.S. sanctions have choked the life out of the Iranian economy, bringing it to the verge of complete collapse. Rampant unemployment, chronic inflation, shortage of essential goods, and the high cost of living continue to force a large segment of Iranian society into poverty every year.
The head of Iran’s Plan and Budget Organization Mohammad Bagher Nobakht has said that the government’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 (which starts on March 21) is close to $115 billion, the Tasnim news agency reported on December 5.
Although the government has not released a line item report on the sources of the income for the next fiscal year, Mr. Nobakht’s remarks suggest that the 2020-21 budget comprises $47.5 billion in taxes and only $14.2 billion in oil revenue. To make up a portion of the deficit, the government will most likely have to sell $19 billion and $12 billion, respectively, in bonds and assets. It will also have to dip into the National Development Fund for about $7.2 billion.
It is abundantly clear that the burden of narrowing the government budget deficit will fall on the shoulders of ordinary Iranians, given that the leaders of the Islamic Republic and the privileged classes with close ties to the regime do not pay taxes or sell their assets.
The government’s financial and banking systems have all but collapsed. So, it should not come as a big surprise if people were to pour into the streets in high numbers to protest rampant corruption, social injustices, and the regime’s failed domestic and foreign policies.
What lessons have protesters learned from the October unrest so that in the future they can encourage more people to take part in rallies, use new tactics of civil obedience, counter ways the state can crackdown on demonstrations and reduce the number of people killed and arrested?
The most significant aspect of the October nationwide unrest was that protesters did not shout religious, tribal, ethnic, and sectarian slogans. They were all united in their opposition to the Islamic Republic regime. We must not forget this valuable lesson given that the regime will not stop trying to fuel religious, sectarian, ethnic, tribal, and gender disputes among the opposition forces.
The October unrest was defined by three secular slogans of “Reza Shah, God Bless Your Soul,” “Get Lost Clerics,” and “Enemy is Here,” which were repeatedly shouted by protesters around the country. These three slogans will unify the nation against the regime.
Opposition movements in the 1990s and 2000s showed that abstract concepts such as human rights and freedom of the press failed to galvanize the public and create national unity. The October protest over the fuel price hike proved that people support causes that address substantive issues.
The IRGC and the regime depend on the internet for conducting their lucrative business enterprises and, therefore, cannot afford to shut it down completely. Even if they could block access to the global internet, the Iranian people can still communicate through the domestic intranet and organize public protests. Iranian youths are tech-savvy and use proxy servers and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to bypass internet censorship.
Most of the protesters in the October civil unrest were from the working and underprivileged segments of Iranian society. Middle-class and affluent people did not take part in the street rallies. Although they have prospered economically under the regime, the wealthy have suffered social, religious, and cultural discrimination in the same way as the underprivileged classes.
Those who took part in the October protests must know that the rich and the affluent segments of Iranian society intensely dislike the Islamic Republic but remain silent because they enjoy many privileges under the regime. Increased taxes will prompt doctors, academics, lawyers, merchants, and business owners to join future protests. The underprivileged classes can count on the support of the middle class and the rich in their future struggle against the regime.
The October civil unrest was more massive and widespread than the protests in December 2017. Future rallies will be even more significant. The state will be reluctant to brutalize, kill, and arrest protesters once the middle class and the wealthy join the opposition movements.
Those who took part in the October protests did not care about the reform movement. One of the other slogans that protesters chanted was “Reformists, Conservatives; Your Time is Up.” People view reformists and conservatives as two sides of the same coin. Reformists have been losing credibility and are not viewed as a group that can play a crucial role in deciding the future of the country.
It was abundantly clear that the October protests aimed to shut the country down. The tactic could prove very useful in undermining the regime. Blocking roads and highways and storming gas stations could become part of a broader strategy for future protests.
Protesters’ actions confirm a recent comment by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that “the situation in the Islamic Republic was not normal.” The regime’s leaders would like to maintain calm inside the country but wreak havoc in the regions. Protesters have challenged the regime through their actions. Shutting down the country could be an effective tactic to scare senior officials and even force the regime to back down.
It is unclear whether it was angry protesters or security forces that stormed banks and shops during the unrest. These are ineffective measures that do not result in a massive shutdown of the country.
Women are the most oppressed segment of Iranian society. Political Islam does not consider women as a viable challenge to their authority. Sharia law views women as baby-making vessels.
Women, however, played a crucial role in the October civil unrest. Future protesters should not forget this important fact, because shooting and killing women will be a costly mistake for the Islamic Republic regime.
Unconfirmed reports show that most of those who were shot and killed during the recent unrest were men. Security forces were ordered not to shoot women.
The Islamic Republic is still paying for its murder of Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year girl who was shot and killed during the unrest that followed the disputed 2009 presidential elections.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]