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Economic struggles add fuel to Iran’s protests

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People gather in protest against the death of Mahsa Amini along the streets on September 19, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. Anti-government uprisings are to stay a sticking point and increase in frequency in Iran’s political landscape as dissatisfaction with other aspects just like the country’s economic conditions surface, in line with analysts.

Getty Images | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Greater than 180 people have reportedly been killed in Iran’s crackdown since protests ripped through the country following the death of a Kurdish Iranian woman — analysts say such protests are expected to accentuate.

Protests have spread to greater than 50 cities within the one month for the reason that death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict hijab rules. She died while within the custody of morality police.

“Expect anti-government protests to stay a feature of [Iran’s] political landscape and to extend in frequency, scale and violence as economic conditions worsen and social restrictions are tightened,” said Pat Thaker, Economist Intelligence Unit’s editorial director of Middle East and Africa.

These protests will probably be met with force, and increase the Islamic Republic’s dependence on Iran’s elite armed forces, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, she told CNBC.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameinei broke his silence last week and called the protests “riots.” He also blamed the U.S. and Israel in his first public comments for the reason that unrest.

Grievances of Iran’s youth grapple with

Iran has a history of protests sparked by socioeconomic and political issues, akin to the 2019 protests over fuel prices, and in 2017 when people took to the road over rising inflation and economic hardship.

“In newer years, we have seen protests over economic grievances. Those have been driven primarily by the working class and lower middle class,” said Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the Foreign Policy program on the Brookings Institution.

Young Iranians are frustrated by a long time of economic mismanagement alongside the impact of international sanctions and so they hold the Iranian leadership accountable…

Sanam Vakil

Royal Institute of International Affairs

She said the past periods of unrest have built up into the fierce fervor seen in current protests and will “culminate in something that’s going to offer a really persistent and difficult challenge for the Islamic Republic to face up to.”

Iran’s economic troubles

Inflation in Iran is predicted to stay high at over 30%, in line with the World Bank.

The economic troubles are compounded by the country’s soaring unemployment of about 10% and a government debt of 40%, statistics from the International Monetary Fund show.

The decreasing likelihood of a successful Iran nuclear deal could also mean that various economic sanctions will proceed to weigh on the country’s economy.

“There isn’t a query that underlying the present tensions are issues that transcend the forced hijab [situation],” said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, professor of economics at Virginia Tech.

Iranians participate in a pro-government rally in Tajrish square north of Tehran, on October 5, 2022, condemning recent anti-government protests over the death of Mahsa Amini. Anti-government uprisings are to stay a sticking point and increase in frequency in Iran’s political landscape as dissatisfaction with other aspects just like the country’s economic conditions surface, in line with analysts.

AFP | Afp | Getty Images

“Young Iranians are frustrated by a long time of economic mismanagement alongside the impact of international sanctions and so they hold the Iranian leadership accountable for each issues,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director and senior research fellow on the Royal Institute of International Affairs. 

“There isn’t a economic justice or prospect of hope for the longer term, and that is driving widespread anger that’s violently spilling over on the streets,” Vakil said. 

What makes these economic conditions harder to bear for young people is that they’re “higher educated” than their older counterparts who’re those who make the principles and run the country, in line with Salehi-Isfahani.

This may be very much a turning point for the Islamic Republic. The social movement we see underway today has the capability to grow and proceed.

Maloney

economics professor, Virginia Technology

“[The] average years of education for people under 40 is 11 years, in comparison with 6 for older Iranians. But education has not helped youth get a more favorable treatment within the labor market,” he said in an email.

Iran’s adult literacy rate stands at 86.9% in 2022, in comparison with 65% in 1991, two years after Khamenei took power. Iran’s youth unemployment rate hovers barely above 27% in 2021.

‘Regime with endurance’

The social movement that is underway has the capability to develop and persist even within the face of repression attempts, however it’s not prone to escalate right into a civil war, Maloney said.

“This may be very much a turning point for the Islamic Republic. The social movement we see underway today has the capability to grow and proceed,” she said.

A gaggle of scholars burned some veils as a type of protest. Protest in front of the embassy of Iran organized by Iranian students living in Rome to protest against violence of Iranian regime and against death of Mahsa Amini. What makes these economic conditions more “difficult to bear” for the young is that they’re “higher educated” than their older counterparts who’re those who make the principles and run the country, in line with a professor at Virginia Tech.

Matteo NardonePacific Press | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Despite Iranians exhibiting more willingness to be more confrontational with security forces than before, nonetheless, Maloney expressed hesitancy on the prospect of regime change.

“It is a theocracy, it has a monopoly over the levers of power. And it has survived significant unrest throughout the course of the past 43 years,” Maloney said, citing the invasion by late Iraq president Saddam Hussein in 1980, and the newest Covid-19 challenges.

“So it is a regime with some endurance.”

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