Unrest In Iran: Will Youth Be Able To Topple The Government?

Unrest In Iran: Will Youth Be Able To Topple The Government?
Once again, Iran is in shambles. Once again, Iranian masses are taking to streets. Once, again, youth – Gen Z – is leading protests and seeking the theocratic government’s accountability in the Mahsa Amini case.

The protests in Iran started over a month ago when Masha Amini, a 22-year-old woman, died in a hospital in Tehran, under suspicious circumstances. Iran’s morality police arrested her for not wearing a headscarf. Although the government claims that Amini died of heart attack, her family accuses the government of torturing her in custody.

Street protests and brutal treatment of protestors through excessive use of force of the state are not new to Iran. Since the success of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian liberal forces have appeared on streets, demanding freedom of speech and expression, women rights, reforms in criminal justice system, and liberal democratisation. In 1999, for example, Iranian students demonstrated in Tehran against the forceful closure of a reformist newspaper Salam. When the police used force, the demonstrations turned violent and spread across the country, indicating the fickle nature of peace and order in the country. The students demonstrated again in 2003 against the then President Muhammad Khatami, demanding political reforms, social justice, and progressive policies. Mass protests against the then incumbent President Ahmadinejad appeared in 2009, and continued for over a year. In 2020, government workers and low-paying workers in the private sector demanded better working conditions, health services, and better ruminations.

Since 2017, Iran is undergoing an active socio-political movement, seeking end of the theocratic rule in the country through massive protests, civil disobedience, internet activism, and international lobbying.

Iranian youth is evidently annoyed with the country’s diplomatic and financial isolation, unemployment, inflation, corruption, social stagnation and state brutality. They are making it difficult for the state authorities to use excessive force. The use of excessive force to suppress protests produces a new wave of protests.

What direction must the Iranian society take is presently the core issue. Historically, before the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian society exhibited secular outlook and inter-faith tolerance. The country was a close ally of the western powers, especially the US, for which it was a policeman in the Middle East. With the overthrow of monarchy, Iran embraced religious fanaticism, implemented stricter and conservative code of conduct, and denied women a fair share of representation in the society.
According to CNN, in the wake of internet curfew in the country, the US government has sought help from Elon Musk to provide Iranians access to satellite internet service.

Because of its active nuclear programme, Iran faces trade, financial, technological, and diplomatic sanctions. Since 1979, the western countries have imposed sanctions against Iran’s oil exports. In 1981, the US froze all Iranian assets in the US. In 1984, the US designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. The US imposed sanctions on its oil companies from operating in Iran. The assets of the Iranian government in the western banks have been frozen. The citizens and companies of the US and European countries have been forbidden from travelling to Iran, doing business with Iranian nationals or companies, and making funds available to various Iranian organizations and designated government officials alleged to be responsible for human rights violations in the country.

On September 22, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) issued a press release according to which it “designated Iran’s Morality Police for abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.” The latest wave of sanctions from OFAC have targeted seven senior leaders of Iran’s security organizations: the Morality Police, Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Army’s Ground Forces, Basij Resistance Forces, and Law Enforcement Forces. Through these sanctions “all property and interests in property of the individuals and entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.”

It is hard to say if the sanctions will affect Iran in a meaningful manner since it forbids its officials from owning any property or assets in the western countries. However, it does reflect commitment of the liberal world to stand with the ongoing resistance movement in the country. According to CNN, in the wake of internet curfew in the country, the US government has sought help from Elon Musk to provide Iranians access to satellite internet service. Moreover, the US and other European countries have mobilized international forums such as the United Nations Security Council to sanction Iran and its various companies and officials.

The sanctions against Iran have devastated Iranian economy. The exchange rate against US dollar is 42,350 Iranian riyals. Currently, there is more than 50 percent inflation in the country. More than 11 percent workforce of the country is unemployed. Those who are fully employed find it hard to meet their everyday expenses. There is 18 percent poverty rate in the country, 4 percent higher than three years ago. According to the Iranian government statistics, Covid-19 killed more than 140,000 Iranians, a figure widely considered incorrect because of dubious reporting standards.

The current wave of protests in Iran has made the country unstable. The liberal world is showing its commitment to support regime change in the country. At international level, conditions are not encouraging for Iran. Peace in the Middle East has progressed through sidelining Iran and pursuing influential Arab countries to sign Abraham Accord with Israel. Iranian support to Russia in the Ukrainian war is also inviting new sanctions. Increasingly, the Iranian government is frustrating with domestic as well as international pressure.

It’s uncertain if the current wave of protests will topple the government. But the Iranian youth is bent on resisting oppressive policies of the theocratic regime for now.

Pakistan cannot remain oblivious to the changing conditions in Iran. For Pakistan, reaction from a visible and influential Shia population across the country is also a matter of policy concern. From trade point of view, the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project has been put in abeyance due to the US-imposed sanctions. Our own energy crisis can be resolved in the wake of regime change and/or removal of US sanctions. Though the Foreign Office has not issued any statement on the situation, one can argue the Islamabad is closely watching the developments in Iran.

The author is Fulbright Scholar and a Lecturer at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University USA. He can be approached at slashari@tamu.edu