On December 28th, 2017, the citizens of Mashhad, the second largest religious city in Iran, broke into protest. In a matter of days, the protests spread across the country and had reached the capital of Tehran. These protests befuddled both the regime, and academics abroad.
The news went viral when President Trump quickly jumped in to voice his support for the Iranian protesters, tweeting (and I quote): “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime’s corruption and its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests”
Iranian officials responded expressing their disapproval of our president’s comments, citing foreign involvement as a large driving force behind the movement. Furthermore, other academics and political pundits were quick to come forward with their concerns that such comments would delegitimize the protesters entirely… but even they seemed unsure of who — or what — was propelling this movement.
These protests were leaderless and lacked the clear direction of the Green Movement, but what the media fails to cover is that Iranian citizens suffer daily from the crippling sanctions that have been imposed on them. These protests are not new grievances but reflections of the intense dissatisfaction that Iranians have long voiced.
With a majority of the population of citizens under the age of 25, unemployment has steadily increased whilst the price of products and goods have reached new levels of inflation. The majority of Iranians are young, educated and unemployed.
However, these protests are not solely limited to Iran’s youth. The injustices that the Iranian people suffer are not ageist, and citizens from youth to old age pour into the streets to vocalize their discontent. It is the media’s coverage that fails to report it.
In October, retirees gathered in the center of Tehran to protest high living costs and their inaccessibility to insurance. In November, protesters gathered in front of bankrupt credit institutions to protest widespread corruption and mismanagement. In December, students gathered at major Iranian Universities to protest political suppression, gender discrimination and higher tuition rates.
And then came President Rouhani’s decision to publish the government’s budget (the first time since the formation of the Islamic Republic that any leader has done so). When people saw a 10 percent fiscal increase of funds for religious institutions, it was the straw that ultimately broke the camel’s back.
Iranians wanted to know why, exactly, the Supreme Leader Khamenei’s librarian was getting a six-digit salary while a PhD student couldn’t even find a job?
Tehran Bureau Chief, Thomas Erdbrink explained the upheaval in The New York Times: “Iranians discovered that billions of dollars were going to hard-line organizations, the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and religious foundations that enrich the clerical elite. At the same time, the budget proposed to end cash subsidies for millions of citizens, increase fuel prices and privatize public schools.”
Disenfranchised, unemployed and forced to live in an economy with continuing inflation, the people — finally — poured into the streets in protest.
This act of collective defiance shows that the protests were not necessarily a direct response to one thing but rather an amalgamation of Iranian frustration. The protests died out after a crackdown which resulted in the arrests and “suicides” of many of the imprisoned. However, while the protests may have been squashed, the people’s discontent continues.
It is just a matter of time before another one erupts again.