Analysis Iran: the genie out of the bottle


Javier Gil Guerrero is Professor of International Relations at the UFV 

“In the final stages of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, some of the more ridiculous rumors circulating through the streets of Teheran referred to the fact that the military and police men deployed to repress the protests were in fact Israeli mercenary forces. In parodic tone, and anticipating to the more than probable accusations from the regime to delegitimize the protests taking place now, Iranian dissidents published in the social networks that Israel would have parachuted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators throughout Iran, since only this would explain the demonstrations in the government’s eyes.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, as the Chavista Venezuela, has refined the art of blaming on its external enemies the internal dissatisfaction. Is it the economy going badly?: the United States. Are there disturbs in the country?: Zionist complot. Accelerating inflation?: Saudi Arabia. This attitude is very rooted in the Iranian society, which since more than a century ago has developed a great sensitivity when unmasking supposed foreign conspirations that explain the different coups d’État, revolutions and attacks of the modern Iran.

Thus, it is not surprising that the Supreme Leader, Jamenei, has hurried up to point the “external enemies of Iran” as the responsibles of the demonstrations. In this occasion, the novelty of the accusation lies in its vagueness, maybe because the enemies of the Iranian regime nowadays are many and very diverse.

Nevertheless, the last wave of protests in Iran (the wave of protests and disturbs have been taking place periodically since the foundation of the Islamic Republic) responds to internal dynamics. To begin, the origin of the protests is in the conservative city of Mashhad. Thesermon of the prayers on Friday 29th December in the city was used by the ultraconservative cleric to incite the people against Rohaní, who he blames for the bad economic management. The video with the incendiary sermon of Alamolhoda spread quickly in Iran. The objective was to damage Rohaní and discredit his supposed popularity with demonstrations in the streets. However, the ultraconservatives lost very quickly the control and the demonstrations spread across the country in a burst of anger and fury which revealed the annoyance of many, not only at Rohaní, but also at his ultraconservative rivals.

It is important to highlight that Alamolhoda is relative of the last rival of Rohaní in the presidential elections: Ebrahim Raisi. The favorite of the conservative sector and of the Supreme Leader, Raisi lost against Rohaní in May after an intense electoral campaign. Both Alamolhoda and Raisi have important economic interests in the donations and subsidies associated to the religious sanctuaries of Mashad. Rohaní, following a strategy to weaken his ultraconservative rivals, had propel a policy of more transparency in the distribution of those donations and subsidies. He had also proposed to reduce and modify many of the line items which give funds to his political rivals. With his sermon and the demonstrations, Alamolhoda and the ultraconservative clergy waited to divert the popular attention of the scandal of donations, to undermine the support to Rohaní and paralyze his economic reforms.

But what started as a manipulation of the streets inside the framework of the typical fight of the elite of the country transformed quickly into a massive movement of protests against all: both Rohaní and the ultraconservative. The faded economic outlook (specially irritating due to the expectations created after the signature of the nuclear deal) united to the airing of the succulent budget allocations destined to different power groups and to the increase of the expenditure items to underpin Assad dictatorship have reduced the confidence of Iranians on their leaders. Contrary to the demonstrations of 2009, limited to the big cities, with clear leaders and demands, the current demonstrations lack leadership and concrete objectives. They are the result of annoyance; they do not respond to a particular fact. The protests in 2009 were motivated by the supposed electoral deceit. These protests have also a more transversal character than the ones in 2009: they are not limited exclusively to the upper and middle classes. Nevertheless, this spontaneity and absence of leadership play against the current demonstrations. It also plays against it the fact that the two sections of power in struggle are not interested on the continuity of the protests.

The ultraconservatives put the genie out of the bottle, waiting to use the discomfort and dissatisfaction of the population against Rohaní. Once it is proved the volatility of the genie, they will join their forces against Rohaní to put it back in the bottle. Surely the learned lection by the Iranian elites is that in a future it will be better to settle accounts behind the scenes rather than involving the streets”.

Translated by María Maseda Varela

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