|By Manish Rai| The recent protests in Iran rang a warning bell for the ruling theocracy in Tehran. What started in Iran’s second largest and holy city of Mashhad over rising prices, transfigured into widespread, unprecedented protests against the theocratic regime in towns and cities across the country. The earlier protests mainly emerged from capital Tehran and some major cities. But the latest ones touch a vast panoply of cities and towns, where people protest against rising living costs and a corrupt government. Protesters even attacked police stations, government offices, military installations and seminaries amid calls for the resignation of the supreme leader and the dismantling of the Islamic Republic. But what caused such discontent among the masses needs to be given deep thought. It is surely the economy at the heart of grievances that have brought people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo to a boiling point. Economic mismanagement and deep-rooted corruption have given rise to a high rate of unemployment, inflation and widening socioeconomic inequalities. The government’s insensitivity to these grievances has not only affected the working class, but also increasingly impacted the lower sections of the urban middle class.
Iranians now are finding it harder with every passing day to meet their basic requirements. Ironically Iran is the second biggest producer of petroleum products in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Hence, this kind of pathetic economic hardships is totally unacceptable. So, a very vital question arises as to where is all the oil money going? President Rouhani in last December publicized some details of the 2018 budget, revealing that an astronomical portion of state funds was going to religious and military entities while local subsidies were being cut. In addition to this Iran spend a fortune for its overt and covert overseas operations. It spends more than $12 billion annually on its military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Tehran is also providing billions of dollars in the form of subsidies, oil subsidies, credit lines, military assistance, and exports to Syria, whose economy has been shattered by war. Iran also provides enormous amount of assistance to a number of groups across Middle East like- Hezbollah in Lebanon, HAMAS and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, Houthi rebels in Yemen, Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Iraq, Shia political groups in Bahrain etc. All of this is a heavy burden for a country which is also bearing the effects of sanctions and continues to struggle with much higher levels of unemployment and inflation. The people of Iran have every reason to be outraged.
Unfortunately, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian regime sought to export its ideology abroad. Therefore, it spends Iran’s wealth on promoting and creating groups which can propagate Iranian revolutionary ideology. The Islamic Republic has been a self-declared defender and sponsor of Shia cause. To fulfil this desire of being a mascot to Shia cause globally, the regime always gave priority to its armed forces and weapon development projects and not to the welfare of the ordinary Iranian, which bought this current regime to power. Since the time of Iranian revolution, which overthrew Shah Reza Pahlav, i and up till now Iranians have only got income disparity, unemployment, inflation and weak currency from there rulers. These are the fruits of revolution which was delivered to the masses. Now it’s high time that Iranians decide whether Iran is first for Iranians or for the Shia cause. Now the general public opinion in Iran totally rejects State sponsorship of Shia cause, which was clearly illustrated in recent protests when protestors raised slogans like- “Forget about Syria, think about us”.
Surely the protests seem to have died down, but if Iranian leaders fail to recognize that status quo can’t be continued and major reforms are unavoidable, they are only buying time until the next uprising, which could lead to greater instability. Until the grass root issues affecting lives of common Iranians are not sorted out there can’t be any long-term stability. People are in no mood to accept wasteful spending of nation’s wealth on any foreign adventures of the regime. Top leadership of the country now have to dedicate the country’s wealth to the welfare of the citizens or otherwise eventually get itself overthrown. The ruling class of clerics also has to realise that the government is there to serve the country and its people not the other way around that a country should serve ambitions of the government. President Rouhani, who is being considered as a moderate in the current set-up, has to urgently push for reforms which he promised and fix the economy which is at the core of discontent of the people.
(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at [email protected])
Also published on Medium.