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Protests over petrol price hikes have driven the Iranian regime into a dead end

Angry protesters in Iran set fire to numerous banks in protest to fuel price hike
Angry protesters in Iran set fire to numerous banks in protest to fuel price hike

 

Analysis by PMOI/MEK

Iran, November 17, 2019—On Friday, following the Iranian regime’s declaration of a sudden increase in the gas prices and a decrease in fuel subsidies, protests erupted in more than 90 cities across the country. The demonstrations intensified on Saturday and quickly turned into confrontations between protesters and security forces. The events of the past couple of days clearly depict the desperation of the regime and its incapacity to maintain its hold on power.

 

Political protests

While the latest protests in Iran were triggered by the petrol price hike, they quickly became demonstrations against the tyrannical rule of the mullahs. In many cities, protesters chanted slogans against the Iranian regime’s leaders and called for the overthrow of the entire system. Protesters joined forces and called for national unity against the regime. Chants of “mullahs must get lost,” “death to the dictator” and “death to [Ali] Khamenei,” the supreme leader of the regime, were heard in many places.

In several cities, the protesters attacked government buildings, police stations and banks, the symbols of the regime’s corruption and suppression, and set them on fire. More than 100 cases of regime centers being attacked were documented. In the city of Behbehan alone, the people torched 12 banks. In Karaj, 15 banks burned at the hands of the angry protesters. In other cities, squares turned into battlefields, pitting protesters against security forces. Despite the heavy security measures the regime had taken days prior to declaring the gas price hike, the people of Iran, who are fed up with their rulers did not cower and poured into the streets to express their outrage.

 

Khamenei’s worries

In comparison to nationwide protests that erupted in late 2017 in reaction to economic grievances, this round of protests was much more intense, and the anti-regime environment was much more prominent.

In December 2018, Khamenei had warned about the eruption of protests in 2019. “The Americans had said that we would do this and that in 2018. This might be a deception. They might be causing controversy in 2018 and planning for 2019. Everyone must be wary,” Khamenei had said.

On Sunday, following two days of intense protests, Khamenei made remarks, again trying to lay the blame of the protests on the U.S. and the “enemies,” a reference to Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). “The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so,” Khamenei said. “They are constantly encouraging people on social media to do mischief.”

The economic strain

The Iranian regime clearly knew that increasing fuel prices would cause outrage and would potentially lead to protests. Testament to the fact is the widespread security measures it had taken, stationing security forces around gas stations and sensitive locations before declaring the fuel price hike.

The question is, knowing the explosive state of the society, and given that its security apparatus already has its hands full in Iraq and Lebanon, why did the regime decide to go ahead with the gasoline price increase anyway?

The only explanation is the desperate situation the regime is facing under sanctions and the change in international politics. In previous years, the regime benefitted from the appeasement policy of western states. Tehran’s mullahs squandered Iran’s riches on terrorism, the development of weapons of mass destruction and suppression of the Iranian people. And the West turned a blind eye, or at best tried to curb the regime’s belligerence by giving it economic concessions, which the latter used to further fund its illicit activities.

But now, under the pressure of sanctions, the regime is hard-pressed to stay afloat and is losing its hold in the region. In recent weeks, Hassan Rouhani, the regime’s president has expressed in different ways how the regime is stuck in a tight corner. Rouhani has warned about the government shutdown, the deadlock of the financial system, the two-third deficit of the government budget and the fact that the regime can’t do anything without money.

That is why, despite all the risks the gas price hike could entail, the regime decided to carry on with it. The alternative would be to cut back on its terrorism and weapons building, which is never an option for the regime.

Iranian officials resorted to various methods to set the stage for the gas price hike and soften the reaction of the people. But none of the methods proved effective, as the events in the past two days have shown.

 

The fears of Iranian officials

Following the protests and the outrage of the people, various Iranian officials tried to distance themselves from the decision to increase gas prices. This has caused another round of infighting and incriminations among Iranian officials, all of whom are directly responsible for the current economic situation and the miseries of the people.

Mojtaba Zolnur, the head of the Majlis (Parliament) Security Commission and a close ally of Khamenei, wrote on social media, “The Majlis had no intervention in this regard and didn’t have any information on this surprising move by the government. This is the wrong move.”

Zolnur promised to present a legislature on Sunday to reverse the rise in gas prices. Interestingly, Khamenei, from whom Zolnur gets his orders, confirmed the gasoline price hike on Sunday. And needless to say that the heads of the three branches of the regime (executive, legislative and judiciary) were in full agreement with the plan.

On Friday, Mahmoud Vaezi, Rouhani’s chief of staff clearly said that Khamenei himself had a prominent role in this decision. “The change of the fuel price was decided by all vital bodies of the establishment, and the government is merely the executor of the plan,” Vaezi said.

“The plan to ration fuel has been adopted by the Supreme National Security Council, approved by the heads of the three administrative branches and [Khamenei]. The Majlis supports this decision,” said Assadollah Abbasi, spokesperson of the Majlis’s Board of Executives.

The supposed legislature to reverse the price of fuel was subsequently canceled on Sunday, further proving the hollowness of promises made by Zolnur.

Other officials were quick to express criticism of the plan, including some from Rouhani’s own faction. Mohammad Ali Vakily, MP from Tehran, wrote in the state-run Ebtekar newspaper, “If we think that without considering the situation and the [purchasing] power of the people, we can solve the problem through shock therapy, we would be very naïve.”

These remarks further show the desperate situation of the regime and its weakening grip on power. As uprisings in Iran and Iraq continue to escalate in parallel, the regime is becoming increasingly incapable in controlling the situation. Whether it decides to set out for a full and violent crackdown of the protests or to retrace its steps on increasing the price of fuel, it will be in a weaker spot than it is today.

 

 

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