sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Protests in Iran

Economic and anti-government protests have been reported in at least 19 cities in Iran during the past five days. Religious, political and judicial officials have warned, threatened, reasoned with and cajoled protestors to stop civil disorders, destruction of property and rioting. 

Iranian press reported 12 people died in Esfahan. Other casualties and injuries have not been compiled, but there have been several in every city.

On the 1st, Iranian authorities threatened harsh responses to further protests. The map shows the major concentrations of civil disorders.

News services did not report what triggered the demonstrations in Mashhad, where they began. However, they did report the reasons for the protests are high prices for food and gasoline; high unemployment (over 12%); official corruption and the societal effects of extended military commitments outside Iran. The availability of cell phone service contributed to the spread of disorders. Reports in the government disruption of cell phone services to stifle communications made those protests worse.

In almost textbook fashion, economic complaints about failings to satisfy the wants and needs of the people morphed into challenges to the political authority of the ruling clerisy. Protestors called for death to the Supreme Leader and the President, by name. Most of the protests have occurred outside Tehran. If the protests are to have any impact, they must converge on Tehran because it is the center of decision-making authority. 

The protestors appear to lack the organization needed to sustain a threat to the regime so as to effect changes. The police and paramilitary units are responsive to central authority. However, if the mercantile class (the bazaar) sides with the protestors and the protestors form a movement, the threat to the regime would increase significantly.

A significant point that several experts made is that these protests are about Iranian policies and policy failures. Most of the protestors are not demanding systemic change, but rather a reform of the existing system. Many are demanding that President Rouhani keep his promises to improve the economy and to end corruption. 

Analysis

Iran (being an Asiatic country by culture, though clearly not a Confucian country) runs on the 'wasta system' in which favors are exchanged for official services. It's literally impossible to eliminate corruption in a system that is in itself and by culture, 'corrupt' by Western standards. Iran has always been a confused nation in that way. They want the benefits of a Western style of government and the prosperity of representative democracy/republic -- and at the same time want an Islamic-run police state based solely on 'corruption. Their problem is that 'you can't have your cake and eat it too'... which is true of a great many things in life.

Iran, like most Middle Eastern countries (with the exception of Israel) and Eastern Countries - such as Russia wants a strongman in charge of the country. Putin, for example, is running at an 80% approval rate domestically.

Iran did better in many ways under British rule and with the Shah, who kept those western institutions intact than it has under the mullahs, muftis, and ayatollahs, and most of the people who were alive in the "old days" are in their 60's or older. Things were orderly, you didn't have to know somebody at the power company (and offer a personal gift) to have the electricity turned on at your house, for example. The bureaucracy and the system of taxation were regulated.

Finding a balance that checks all the boxes in Iran and for the New Persian Empire will be impossible to find.