Iran is in some serious trouble and it’s all of its own making. Protests swept the country on Saturday after the government’s decision to raise petrol prices.
The protests have put renewed pressure on Iran’s government as it struggles to overcome US sanctions strangling the country’s economy since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago.
Iran has long suffered economic problems since its 1979 Islamic Revolution cut off the country’s decades-long relationship with the US. The eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s followed, further straining its economy. The nuclear deal seemed to have offered an exit from the country’s financial woes. But the collapse of the deal has only exacerbated those problems.
One of the main reasons for the US to quit the nuclear agreement was to punish the Iranian regime for meddling in the internal affairs of the countries in the region. Tehran’s financing of proxy militias in places like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen has drawn the ire of Iranians who want the regime to focus on its own problems and fix its economy.
The protests show widespread anger among Iran’s 80 million people who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency, the rial.
Cheap petrol is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves. So public resentment was inevitable when subsidised fuel prices were raised. The protests show widespread anger among Iran’s 80 million people who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency, the rial. The Iranian rial, which traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the nuclear accord, fell to 122,600 to $1 in trading on Saturday.
Much like its neighbour, Iraq, Iran is an extremely wealthy country which is witnessing a sharp increase in poverty. Protester chants mirrored the economic protests in late 2017, which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and the deaths of at least 25 people. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei backed the government’s decision to raise fuel prices and called the protesters “bandits.” Instead of responding with brute force, Iran should be taking a good, hard look at its choices in the region.
Iranians want their leaders to be more responsible when it comes to spending and they deserve a leadership that fights for them instead of against them. With the unprecedented pressure it faces both domestically and abroad in Lebanon and Iraq, Iran should be careful going forward and rethink its repression of dissent.