On the dawn of a new year, here’s a look at Iran’s protest outburst in 2018

Al Arabiya

Year 2018 was like no other for the Iranian regime, beginning with massive protests and a nationwide uprising. While these protests have vanished from mainstream media headlines, they have certainly not ceased.

This ongoing movement came to life with the most serious and biggest opposition demonstrations since 2009, shaking the very pillars of this regime and signaling a society – described as a powder keg – ready to explode and bring an end to the clerics’ rule. This also sent a message to the international community, especially Washington, about the Iranian regime’s domestic vulnerability.

Cross-hairs shifting

Back in 2009, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was able to relevantly distance himself from the protesters’ wrath. In 2018, however, the Iranian people have brazenly taken their gloves off in their hallmark chants:
“Reformists, hardliners, GAME OVER”
“Death to Khamenei”

The streets of Iran have reached boiling point due to the accumulation of the regime’s failing domestic, economic and foreign policies. Ordinary Iranians are losing their purchasing power and reports indicate over 80 percent of the people are living below the poverty line.

An interesting hypocrisy on Tehran’s part is seen in officials’ invitation of the mass public to a “resistance economy,” while continuing their highly expensive foreign policy of providing support for dictators and terrorist groups such as Bashar Assad in Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen.

All the while, despite the claims made by the Iranian regime and its foreign-based pundits, the source of their miseries is crystal clear for the Iranian people, as voiced in their meaningful slogans.
“Our enemy is right here; they lie and say it’s America”

Bigger picture

Mashhad, a religious city in northeast Iran, was the launching pad of Iran’s 2018 protests, with protests initially focusing on economic dilemmas such as unemployment, poverty and skyrocketing prices.

Ever since, protests are snowballing across the country and knocking on the regime’s doors in Tehran, the capital. While demonstrators began targeting economic policies implemented by the government, Khamenei is feeling in the heat as protesters – including workers, college students, teachers, truck drivers, nurses and people from all walks of life – protest the country’s corrupt political system to the very top.

This is unveiling the very fragile nature of Iran’s regime, especially with US sanctions beginning to tighten the noose around the regime, mainly in regards to its funding of proxy forces across the Middle East.

Khamenei’s charade of blaming enemies was never welcomed by the Iranian people, particularly after witnessing billions go to arming sectarian militias across the region and fuel wars deemed unpopular by the Iranian people.
“Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My life for Iran”
“Let go of Syria, think about us”

Main cause

US sanctions are finding their place in Khamenei’s speeches time and again, especially after Washington withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal back in May of 2018. Iran’s currency, the rial, has collapsed, to a point losing more than 80 percent of its value even prior to US President Donald Trump’s landmark decision. This goes to prove the regime’s policies, corruption and economic mismanagement are the main cause of the people’s suffering.

While Iran’s regime may claim otherwise, economic crisis in Tehran is the result of the “corrupt dictatorship” that has stolen billions of dollars from the public to spend on its Middle East adventures, ballistic missile proliferation and a controversial nuclear program.

Khamenei has learned his lessons both in 2009 and in 2018, hearing the people chanting for his fall and seeing his images burned in alleys across the country. A stark difference in 2018 is the harsh reality that Iran’s lower class – whom the regime claims to have support among – is furious over poor living conditions and are demanding change.

Protesters hold up letters, spelling “Human Rights,” during a rally to demand the release of political prisoners in Iran as part of a “Global day of action” in Berlin on July 25, 2009. (AFP)

 

With Tehran’s former mayor indirectly once saying this regime only represents four percent of the society, Khamenei’s concerns are real and his only solution are increased oppression. Khamenei has no doubt who is behind these protests.

“The incidents were organized” and carried out by the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran [PMOI/MEK], he said in January, although using a different term. “The [MEK] had prepared for this months ago” and “the [MEK’s] media outlets had called for it.”

In an attempt to contain the escalating protests, French President Emmanuel Macron was asked by his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to take action against the PMOI/MEK in France, describing them as the force fomenting the ongoing strife. The French President declined.

The undeniable

As we speak, people from all walks of life are joining the ranks of those protesting this regime’s rule in one way or another. Even bazaar merchants, who played a significant role in the 1979 revolution, have launched numerous strikes to voice their opposition to the status quo.

Considered a center for conservatives in Iranian politics, Khamenei cannot deny that he and his regime have lost the support of not only the bazaar, workers, what is left of the middle class and … All the while, the lower class, while growing in numbers, are also growing in anger. This poses an undeniable threat for the ruling regime in 2019.

As the US further escalates sanctions against Tehran, the month of May signals the end of the six-month oil embargo waivers provided to eight countries importing Iranian oil. Should Washington decide to tighten the screw on Tehran, the regime’s economic woes will avalanche.

Iran’s ruling clerics may attempt to save face with claims such as closing the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, where one third of the world’s shipping oil transits. All the while, Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards are fully aware of the simmering fire of protests in the epicenter of every major city across the country.

Certain for 2019 is the fact that the Iranian people will further realize this regime is weakening. This will embolden their demands and increase the number and geography of protests across Iran.

The most potent force

The more protests in Iran, the more the international community will realize the regime is weakening to the point of no return. As Tehran’s economic isolation escalates, the more the people will see windows of major protests opening.

This is a deadly formula for the Iranian regime, evolving and expanding from 2018 to 2019, making this upcoming 12 months a year of promising developments for the Iranian people.

The longer Tehran continues the current freefall into economic crisis, the more current protests will transform into the most potent force functioning toward establishing meaningful change within Iran.