Protests started in Mashad and spread across Iran Dec. 28, leaving the clerical rule of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blaming demonstrations on “outside” influences, hinting that the United States was behind the unrest. Demonstrators, spanning many small Iranian cities, including Isfahan, largely consist of young people fed up with the high unemployment and slow pace of economic growth, in part due to years of U.N. sanctions for Iran’s uranium enrichment program. While the P5+1, including the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany, agreed to the July 14, 2015 Iranian Nuke Deal provided Iran with considerable cash and sanctions relief, it hasn’t trickled down into the economy. Iran’s 1979 Revolution and clerical government drove and estimate 5 million industrious Iranians to flee the country, creating a brain-drain, having consequences in today’s economy.
Iran’s clerical government isn’t a friendly place to do business, often harassing or confiscating property of business not meeting the clerical standards set by the Ayatollah and enforced by a brutal Revolutionary Guards. “In recent days’ incidents, enemies of Iran utilized various means—including money, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus—to create problems for the Islamic system,” Khameni said on his official Website. Khamenei can’t accept that Iran’s repressive crackdown on anyone seeking to live their lives without conformity to clerical standards leaves life in Iran intolerable. Using the Revolutionary Guards and volunteer Basij militia, Khaemein keeps a tight ship, harassing, punishing and arresting anyone that doesn’t follow his guidelines. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei’s Revolution made it difficult for non-Shiite Islamic groups to live freely in Iran.
Iran’s “pragmatist” President Hassan Rouhani serves at the pleasure of Khamenei and can only do so much to deal with how the clerical government drives out international businesses. Khamenei blames all types of civil discontent on foreign sabotage, especially the United States. Since coming to power June 4, 1989 after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah, Khamenei has shown no tolerance for any person or group challenging clerical rule. When protests spread in 2009 after a fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Khamenei ordered the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia to squelch the unrest. “According to the Constitution and citizens’ rights, people are free to express their criticism and to protest,” said Rouhani, reserving the government’s right to crack down. “The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate unrest and create unrest in society.”
Rouhani can do almost nothing to change Iran’s strict clerical rule. President Donald Trump expressed support for Iranian protesters Dec. 28, calling the government repressive and corrupt. “The people of Iran are finally siding against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump said today. “All the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets.” “The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching,” said Trump, sparking more debate in the U.N. U.N. Amb. Nikki Haley said today that protesters have a right to be heard. “The Iranian dictatorship is trying to do what it always does, which is to say the protests were designed by enemies. We all know that is complete nonsense,” Haley told the U.N. today. Living under repressive clerical law doesn’t encourage global industries to do business in Iran.
Foreign policy experts like the New Yorker’s Robin Wright think the economic issues are only the tip of the iceberg. “This began over economic issues,” said Wright. “Now it has taken on a political component, challenging not only the government of President Rouhani but al the broader religious system,” though many of the protesters look like Iranian youth. How much of Khamenei’s policies are backed by the general population isn’t known. What’s known for sure are young people are fed up with being beaten by the Basij militia for listening to Western music. Instead to letting the young express themselves through dress and music, Khamenei’s repressive crack down leaves many young people oppressed and hopeless. While no foreign journalists are permitted in Iran, it’s been reported that protests in Tehran have already been squelched by Khamenei’s Revolutionary Guards.
Trump and U.N. Amb. Haley have put on a full court press on Iran, prompting the government to tell the U.S. to mind its own business. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency told Trump to fix his racial and homeless problems before commenting about the Islamic Republic. With hundreds of people arrested and scores dead around Iran since Dec. 28, the government’s crack down’s already started. Trump put Iran on notice to stop its terrorist practices, especially sending rockets to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and guided missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. With Iran’s clerical government unlikely to cede power, highlighting protests puts Khamenei and Rouhani under a microscope for how they handle the protests. Trump already de-certified the Iranian Nuke Deal, tossing it back to Congress for re-certification. If pro-Democracy protesters get treated badly, Congress could cancel the deal.