Hardline Officials Blame Wave of Protests in Iran on Rouhani Government and Foreign Powers
Protests flared across several Iranian cities during the last week of December 2017 as citizens faced off with security forces to demand better living circumstances. Hardline officials meanwhile blamed the Rouhani government and foreign powers for the unrest.
“People poured into the streets today because they are tired of the rising cost of living,” a protester in Kermanshah told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on December 29.
“When we don’t have bread to eat, we are not afraid of anything,” added the protestor, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
Continued the source: “The police violently attacked us with batons, fists, and kicks, and we threw stones at them. We did everything we could. It was an uprising. It’s just the beginning. We cannot hold back because we cannot feed our families with silence.”
The protesters expressed anger at the country’s leaders for the rising cost of living, with many echoing the anti-government slogans heard during the pro-democracy Green Movement in 2009.
On December 29, 2017, protests hit the cities of Kermanshah and Hamadan in the west, Rasht and Sari in the north, Ahvaz in the southwest, and Qom and Isfahan in central Iran. Officials also reported arrests in the capital city of Tehran.
In Kermanshah, demonstrators gathered in Azadi Sq, Modarres St., and Shahid Beheshti Blvd., shouting slogans such as “Freedom or death,” “Death to the dictator,” “People beg; Agha [Master] rules like a God,” “Death to high prices,” “Let go of Syria; think about us,” “I give my life for Iran, not Gaza, not Lebanon,” “Don’t be afraid, we are all together,” and “Political prisoners must go free.”
On December 28, demonstrations erupted in Mashhad, the country’s second largest city, and over the course of the next few days spread to a number of other cities in Khorasan Razavi Province.
Police forces used tear gas and water cannons against the protesters in Mashhad, where they made several arrests.
On December 29, the Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), described the protesters in Kermanshah as “anti-revolutionaries” and accused them of destroying public property.
Tasnim, a news service also affiliated with the IRGC, claimed the protests were directed at the government of President Hassan Rouhani for allegedly failing to help thousands of people who claim they lost their life savings as a result of Iranian private banks and investment houses going bankrupt.
President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to revitalize Iran’s economy, which was badly damaged by years of government mismanagement and sanctions, but any economic improvements achieved during his term have failed to impact most people’s pocket books in a positive way.
Iran’s inflation rate was recorded at 9.9 percent in December 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It was as high as 35 percent during Rouhani’s first year in office in 2013.
The national unemployment remained at 12 percent at the end of 2017, two percentage points higher than when Rouhani entered office four years ago. In March 2017, the unemployment rate for youth 15-29-years-old had increased from 24.9 percent to 26.4 percent.
Ignoring the protesters’ demands, the IRGC accused them of trying to create a “new sedition,” a reference to the 2009 mass protests against the disputed result of that year’s presidential election, which came to be known as the Green Movement.
“They are using new ways to trick the people and engineer a new sedition against Islamic Iran and stop the revolution’s progress beyond the country’s borders,” said the IRGC in a statement on December 29.
It continued: “In these critical circumstances those who care about the revolution and all Iranians who are concerned about the independence and glory of Islamic Iran, must open their eyes and act wisely to dash the malevolent hopes of the united front of anti-revolutionaries inside and outside the country under the guidance of the evil triangle of the US, the Zionist regime [Israel], and the UK with the support of regional reactionaries [Saudi Arabia].”
The demonstrations coincided with the anniversary of the bloodiest days of the Green Movement on December 27, 2009, in Tehran, known as the “Ashura Protests.”
On December 27, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei criticized the protests as “baseless statistics, lies, and slander … against the achievements of the Islamic revolution” and blamed the Rouhani government and the country’s foreign enemies for the unrest.
“Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people in the country are making accusations against officials and organizations in an effort to justify the unbelievable lies spread by the enemies,” he said. “Those in charge of the country, past and present, cannot play the role of the opposition and speak against the state.”
On December 29, Mohsen Hamadani, the deputy governor of Tehran in charge of security, warned that “any gathering in the capital’s squares will be firmly dealt with.”
“Some anti-revolutionaries are trying to organize and take advantage of the people,” he added. “Usually it’s the monarchists and ‘munafiqin’ who start things.”
Munafiqin is a derogatory term used by Iranian officials to describe the banned Mojahedin Khalgh Organization (MEK).
Hours later, Hamadani announced that a “few” people had been arrested in the capital: “Less than 50 people had gathered in one of the squares and some of them left the scene when the police gave a warning but a few of them stayed and ignored the warnings. Then the police requested instructions and a few people were detained with a judicial warrant.”
“They will be released at the first opportunity after the police record their information,” added Hamadani.
A day earlier in Mashhad, the police had shot water cannons and tear gas at the hundreds who had gathered to protest against the country’s economic woes.
After announcing that 52 protestors had been arrested, Mashhad’s Revolutionary Prosecutor Hossein Heydari said on December 29 that some of them had “shouted radical slogans against the foundations of the state.”
“The law will not compromise with individuals who take advantage of social conditions and create problems for other citizens and disturb the peace,” he warned.
Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the supreme leader’s ultra-conservative representative in Mashhad and the city’s Friday prayers leader, blamed the protests on the Rouhani government.
“We should not wait until the knife hits the bone and forces people to pour into the streets to voice their problems,” said Alamolhoda in a sermon on December 29. “Unfortunately some managers and officials in the executive branch today are not attending to people’s problems.”
“The enemy wants to hurt us,” he said. “We should not let them take advantage of the people’s demands.”