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1979 Reloaded #iranprotests

1979 Reloaded <a class="hashtagger" href="">#iranprotests</a>

We all use comparative methods while trying to make sense of social and political developments.

However, sometimes we are eager to over simplify and exaggerate the similarities between countries. We do that especially when we are analyzing the Middle East. Some wonder if this is a “spring” moment for Iran, others tend to call this, the “Gezi” moment. Highly likely it is none of them. This is maybe 1979 reloaded.

Before Arab Spring, we have seen widespread protests in Iran in 2009. The unrest then began after the presidential elections. By then protesters were mostly supporters of Ahmadinejad’s rival in the election, Mir Hussein Mosawi and his partner Karroubi. Protesters then claimed the election was rigged and demanded their votes to be recounted, too. Then they had concrete political demands. They knew what they wanted. They were not after a revolution but they were after reform. They were demanding constitutional changes, which would lead to a more democratic environment. They were usually the children of the crème de la crème of the regime, mostly well educated and politicized.

“Marg Bar Rouhani”

Their adversaries back then were the regime hardliners; lower middle classes, who are dependent on the pocket money provided to them by the Ahmadinejad government. Sides were clear.

Things in Iran have changed a lot since then. Now there are moderates in power, tightening their grip, vocal against the monopoly of the Revolutionary Guards in economy and politics. Yet, they are now facing a great test.

This time protests started against Rouhani. First protesters to go out on the streets were chanting “Marg Bar Rouhani” (Death to Rohani). They were angry, poor and hungry.

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In autocratic regimes, of course state pressure plays a role for the submission of masses, however there is another factor, which are the major and minor benefits masses get from the regimes. Ahmadinejad had been providing that. During his power, poor families used to get monthly monetary help from the state also from time to time cheap food was provided to the poor. Rouhani, as soon as he took the power, underlined there is corruption in Iranian economy, thus changed the system. The “bribes” that were handed out to the poor, were cut.

Rouhani needed to make radical changes within the system to normalize the economy, which does not seem to be doable. It is nearly impossible for Revolutionary Guards to let go of economic and political power they have.

Just a day before protests erupted, Rouhani gave a speech about the new budget. There he openly said how much money was being allocated to some religious foundations. For example Khomeini institution was allocated 17,835, 000 US Dollars whereas Tehran University got 22,100,000.

Basically it was crystal clear that clerics were eating up the taxpayer’s money; also, the wars that Iran is involved through proxies.

As the protests are gaining momentum, there is violence on the streets and the death toll is rising. Government is trying to keep cool, Rouhani stated the voice of the people must be heard and the corrupt system has to be mended, at the same time he reminded there is not much he can do. He is the President but he does not have the powers to make necessary changes.

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The ones on the street are young people, from small cities, most under 25. Let alone revolution they even do not know much about 2009. They do not have a leader. Rather than concrete political demands, people are chanting for simple needs. Two cities for example where the riots take place, unemployment is sky-high. In Shadegan city unemployment is 42 percent, in Masjid Suleiman, 43 percent.

In 2009 the youth were using the slogans of 1979, deconstructing and reconstructing the discourse of the regime. Those slogans this time are absent on the streets. Renowned names of the green movement are not among the protesters this time. This is a new generation, without hope and future; with anger that they have been holding up and demands.

About The Author

Nevsin Mengu

Born in Ankara in 1982. Studied Political Science at University of Bilkent. Did her masters on Sociology at University of Galatasaray. Worked at several news outlets like Haberturk and Hurriyet. Mostly covered Middle East as a correspondent. From 2009 to 2010, worked for TRT TURK in Tehran. From 2011 until 2017, anchored CNNTURK 18 o’clock news. Now writing opinion pieces for Birgün newspaper and doing weekly interviews for Deutsche Welle.

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