How Iran’s Protests could hit the Wider Middle East

By Josepha Ivanka Wessels | (The Conversation) | – –

Roiling more than a dozen major cities, young Iranians are protesting against the country’s government. They appear to be particularly angered by the country’s funding of wars in Arab countries, such as Yemen and Syria, as Iranian citizens slide towards poverty. In the city of Kerman, demonstrators chanted that the “People are living like beggars, the Leader is behaving like a God”, and in Khuzestan, protesters reportedly called out “death to Khamenei”, Iran’s supreme leader. Something profound is happening – and it could have major implications for the Middle East as a whole.

On the face of it, this is reminiscent of the huge protests that followed the 2009 election, known as the Green Movement or Green Revolution. But these latest protests are all round very unlike the Green Movement in their implications, their size, and their demographics. In 2009, protesters mainly came from a young and educated middle class; this time, the protests started in the north-western city of Mashad, traditionally a religiously conservative place, and those taking to the streets come from a far wider variety of backgrounds.

Alas, much as happened in 2009, the latest protests in Iran face a severe government crackdown. The first deaths at the hands of security forces were reported in Dorud, and more than 20 casualties have now been counted. And yet the protesters continue to stand up against the government’s iron-fisted approach. So what’s driving them?

Besides the protesters’ explicit antipathy toward Iranian foreign policy in the Arab world, the protests also have a distinctively Arab dimension. In Ahwazi, a majority Arab region in Iran’s south-west, protests have been going on for weeks, with people taking to the streets to rail against the Iranian government’s repression and its confiscation of Ahwazi land and water. Thousands of Arab Iranians took to the streets when an Iranian parliamentarian, Qassem al-Saeedi, slammed the Iranian government’s discriminatory policies, even comparing the Iranian regime’s anti-Arab policies to those of Israel.

Lending support

Then there’s the matter of Syria. Since the beginning of the Syrian uprisings in 2011, Ahwazi Arab Iranians have stood in solidarity with their counterparts on the Syrian streets, while Syrian pro-democracy protesters have waved the Ahwaz flag in their protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Small wonder then that today’s Syrian anti-regime revolutionaries and activists are standing in solidarity with the Iranian protests.

Abdelaziz al-Hamza, a Syrian pro-democracy activist from Raqqa and active member of the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, advised the Iranian protesters not to reveal their identity, not to carry any ID documentation, and to use removable memory cards in the devices they use to document the protests. He also strongly advised them to use nicknames for their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts, and to communicate via encrypted apps.

Many Syrian opposition activists hope that the Iranian protests will start a domino effect that eventually affects Iranian foreign policy towards Syria. In recent years, the Iranian government has spent billions of dollars annually supporting the repressive Syrian regime. Iran’s powerful military chief, General Qasem Soleimani, has been leading the Iranian military operation inside Syria. If the current protests lead to some sort of revolutionary change, Iran’s strong financial and military support to active actors in the Syrian war – among them Hezbollah and the Assad regime’s army – could suddenly shrivel up. This will also have major implications for Arab countries where Iran is playing a military role, not least Yemen.

If anything is to be learned from the Syrian uprisings, it’s that protests such as these can take on a life of their own in ways no one anticipated. There is a significant chance that the Iranian regime will be every bit as brutal in its crackdown as the Assad regime. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blamed the protests on a foreign conspiracy; hundreds of protesters have been arrested, and the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Court warned that some will receive death sentences.

The ConversationThe prospect of major bloodshed at the hands of the state looms large – and if that happens, the ensuing domino effect could create yet another volatile and explosive situation in an already stormy and dangerous region.

Josepha Ivanka Wessels, Senior Researcher Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Iran: People are not happy with current regime – Analysis ”

Posted in Iran,Middle East | 4 Responses | Print |

4 Responses

  1. Middle East is always messed up some way or other despite the oil wealth ,religious strictures and discipline. This gives western powers to either provoke or intervene making the situation far worse. These powers intervene to enable regime change as if it is their own country. The main purpose is to control the oil wealth and dominate the Middle East. It is also empower their ally Israel that wants to finish off the middle East and establish ‘Greater Israel’. The Arabs sadly are known never to agree on anything and seem brilliant in fighting each other. Iran is a dignified nation and a problem therefore for the Us which wants all these countries to be their slaves. Trouble could be sowed in Iran from hostile Arab nations inspired by visits and advice by the US as has been seen recently. The whole thing adds together.

  2. With all due to respect to the author, this is a very biased and inaccurate view of what has been happening in Iran during the atest protests. The author makes some standard points about the protests being the worst since the 2009 protests and anti-regime slogans, but all the stuff about the Ahvazi Iranian Arabs standing in solidarity with their counterparts on the Syrian streets, and bringing in General Qasem Soleimani and the Hezbollah is a part of Arab and Israeli propaganda to distort the message of the protests. All polls, including some by the University of Maryland, have shown that there is a big majority support for Iran’s actions against ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq because people know that if they had not been confronted there they would have taken over Syria and Iraq and Iran would have been next.
    For a long time, especially since Mohammed bin Salman’s seizure of power in Saudi Arabia, Arab regimes have tried to incite separatist sentiments among Iranians of Arab origin in Ahvaz and Khuzestan as a whole but so far they have failed in their campaign. The following link provides an example of demonstrations in a number of cities mainly in Ahvaz against the protests and in support of the Iranian government. Of course, these marches are stage-managed, but they show that the government still has the ability to mobilize a large number of its supporters, even in Ahvaz. To ignore all this is wishful thinking.
    link to fort-russ.com

  3. The token support given to the Houthis in Yemen by Iran hardly amounts to funding the war in Yemen. Iranian support, either by cash or in military material, has been minimal. The Iranians have had the best of it in Yemen. They have done very little, but been given loads of credit by the Saudis, some in the US and others.

    There is also a clear sectarian angle to much of the support being given to the protests in Iran. It is impossible to talk about anything like this today in the Middle East without having it touch on sectarian politics.

  4. The Iranian government should address the economic woes of the working class, lower middle classes and rural dwellers. It should open up its politics by freeing political prisoners esp. the leaders of the Green revolution. Iran is a far more democratic government than the Arab countries. It is also the only truly independent country in the region. Israel, KSA and US is out to get it. MBS said that he will bring the chaos to Iran. Iranian establishment should not aid the enemies by its own stupidity. It is only hastening its demise by proclaiming as Khamenei did that the protests were triggered by enemies. No, “it is the economy stupid.” Any government that ignores demands of its populace and suppresses them is legit.
    I am not familiar with the Ahwaz situation. I would advise caution in taking what is written here on face value. Assertions like solidarity between Ragga and Ahwaz based on reports of a single organization, and at best is a very weak evidence.

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