As the economic situation in Iran continues to turn down in the face of newly re-imposed US sanctions, protestors have become more and more active in voicing their concerns on the streets of the Islamic Republic.
But, as so often happens under such dictatorial regimes, with increased levels of dissent comes increasingly desperate attempts by the Iranian leadership to quash public opposition.
In recent days, at least twenty-nine Iranian citizens have been arrested on what have been described as “vague charges”, including “economic disruption”, and some are facing state-issued threats of execution.
Amnesty International Human Rights prize-winner Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, based in Norway, told reporters that “in recent weeks and months we’ve had many protests. Human rights are suffering and every day they suffer more. Iran is amongst the biggest violators of human rights in the world today.”
“There are people who have been executed for economic corruption. But the trials are not public so nobody knows that what the authorities are claiming is true. From the authorities’ view, these death sentences are more important as instruments of intimidation and spreading fear.”
Such drastic measures have been quite commonplace under the Rouhani regime – in December and January, protestors across the country were met by state security forces leading to the deaths of at least twenty-five and the arrests of nearly 5,000 – but recent demonstrations have raised the stakes for Tehran.
Aside from speaking out against the dire economic situation in the country, sparked by President Rouhani’s dismissal of more stringent regulations on Iran’s nuclear programme leading to new sanctions imposed by US President Trump’s Administration, demonstrators are now demanding that the leadership in Tehran withdraw funding from its regional proxy movements to finance domestic issues.
A cornerstone of Iranian regional policy, its support for proxies in Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have been instrumental in allowing Iran to spread its influence throughout the Middle East. But supporting governments is not a policy that comes without significant cost.
Amiry-Moghaddam noted that “the Iranian regime’s financial corruption, misuse of public funds, the widespread banking crisis, and the haemorrhaging of billions of dollars on militia and terror groups are among the major reasons behind the present currency and economic crises.”
Any freeze on the flow of cash trafficked across borders to support these regimes, not to mention the illicit smuggling of weapons to extremist militias like the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon, will severely impact Iran’s ability to influence political decision making in these countries.
The simple solution would be for the Tehran regime to end its support for Islamist terror groups throughout the region, restore economic stability to Iran, and regain a semblance of international credibility at the same time – but that isn’t going to happen.
President Rouhani’s raison d’etre is to propagate the violent ideals of his regime across the world. He regards his collection of Middle Eastern governments loyal to Tehran as a core component of this ambition. For the Iranian people to demonstrate against economic instability is one thing; for them to demand an end to this programme of influence is a whole other story.
As these demonstrations continue, hope and pray for peace and reason, but expect nothing short of bloodshed and death.