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Iran: Early signs of another uprising

Protests by pensioners in various Iranian cities (February 2020)
Protests by pensioners in various Iranian cities (February 2020)

Analysis by PMOI/MEK

Iran, February 22, 2021—In the past three weeks, pensioners across Iran have been organizing protest rallies to demand their most basic rights. On Sunday, the event was marked by demonstrations in more than 20 cities and counties, including Tehran, Tabriz, Mashhad, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Arak, Ahvaz, Karaj, Qazvin, Rasht, Sari, Shushtar, Dezful, Haft Tappeh, Ardebil, Yazd, Neyshabur, Khorram Abad, Ilam, and Bojnurd.

The protesters were chanting, “Astronomical salaries [for government officials], misery for the public,” “We are fed of with this injustice,” “Our salaries are paid in rial, but we pay our expenses in dollars,” “Enough with the promises, our tables are empty,” “We will not back down until we get our rights,” “Enough with they tyranny, our tables are empty,” “The retirees fund has been hijacked by thieves,” and more.

This was the fifth nationwide protest by retirees in the past two months. The movement has been growing in numbers and is gradually becoming more radical and political in nature. Aside from their basic demands, the protesters have been chanting slogans against systematic corruption, injustice, and tyranny in the ruling regime.

This growing wave of protests is happening while in the past year, the regime has used the coronavirus outbreak as a buffer and shield against the eruption of public outrage following the November 2019 uprising. But today, the people’s economic and living conditions have declined to such miserable point that not even the pandemic and the regime’s vast repressive apparatus can keep them off the streets.

On February 18, Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Tehran City Council, warned, “If we don’t consider the November 2019 and December 2017 incidents as the threshold of the society’s tolerance reaching its threshold, we are now in a similar situation and the conditions are growing worse by the day.”

We only need to look at the warnings issued by regime officials, experts, media, and analysts in the past few days to understand the explosive state of the society:

  • Setareyeh Sobh daily (February 20, 2020): “The people’s purchasing power has declined, the national currency has crashed, inequality has increased, the misery index has risen in comparison to 2017, unemployment has increased, environmental conditions have worsened, and the people’s lives are becoming harder.”
  • Vatan-e Emrooz daily (February 20, 2020): “In the past ten months, liquidity has increased by 7,440 trillion rials, which is a one-and-half times increase in comparison to the previous year. Liquidity in Iran is in a dangerous state.”
  • Statistical Center of Iran (February 2020): “The average price of square meter of land or residential are in Tehran is 410 million rials, which in comparison to the previous quarter, has shown a 6-18 percent increase.”
  • Kar va Kargar daily (February 21, 2020): “The point-to-point inflation of food items has increased by 6-9 percent in comparison to last year and has reached 66.8 percent.”

Meanwhile, as the retirees pointed out in their protests, the flipside of the coin of poverty and misery in Iran is the lavish lifestyle of Iran’s rulers. In his disputes with rivals, Eshaq Jahangiri, vice president to regime president Hassan Rouhani, said on February 20 that when you look at the life of “those who claim to fight corruption,” you see that “whatever they have comes from rent-seeking.”

On February 20, the Mostaghel newspaper described these government-backed mafia gangs as “representing the rent-seeking class of rulers.” Mostaghel further wrote that this class has “reached very lucrative economic conditions thanks to government-backed rent-seeking activities.”

The scale of plundering is so enormous that every once in a while, parts of it are revealed in disputes between rivaling regime factions. On February 20, MP Moussavi Larigani said, “1,500 trillion rials, equivalent to 70 billion dollars, of the country’s wealth has dissipated into the stock market.” Larigani was referring to the enormous bust of the stock market following a bubble growth that was incited by regime leaders and lured many small investors into a market that was controlled by government-run gangs. The stock market crash has destroyed the investments and lives of many ordinary people to the benefit of government-linked investors and companies.

Larigani further said, “A paper company with 2 trillion rials worth of assets was sold on the stock market at a 32 trillion rial valuation. This is while this company doesn’t even have a physical office and its stock was nothing but a piece of paper.”

As Mostaghel warned on Saturday, “Neglecting the demands of the impoverished segments has created deep crises, and one specific example was the November 2019 protests.”

The ongoing protests are another manifestation of the explosive state of the society, caused purely by the regime’s corruption. As the regime continues to plunder the country’s wealth and spend it on its leaders destructive goals, the rage of the people is warming to a boil, and it is only a matter of time before it reaches the point of no return.