Quite incredible news is coming out of Iran. There have been huge protests in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, protesting against the regime not only for its mis-management of the economy but against the repression of Iranian citizens by the Ayatollahs.
Crowds of protesters in Iran, which used to chant “Death to Khamenei” and “Down with the dictator,” have moved up earlier this month, to chanting “Death to Palestine!”
As Sohrab Ahmari tweeted: “”Death to Palestine!” Not to Israel. Not to America. But to Palestine,” to which he added, “Hamas and Hezbollah and Palestinian Jihad can kiss their Iranian funding goodbye if the regime falls.”
Former GW Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted: “To reporters everywhere: Please pay attention to what is happening in Iran now. I know foreign bureaus are almost non-existent these days, but keep a close eye on this story – and report it.”
With that kind of pressure, how could we not.
Opposition website Iran Wire reported Monday that protests have broken out across Tehran in response to rising prices and the sharp fall in the value of Iranian currency.
“The unrest started on Monday morning in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and soon spread to southern and central parts of Tehran. And there were reports that bazaar traders in the cities of Shahriar in Tehran province, Ahvaz in Khuzestan and Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz have also gone on strike and staged protests.”
“In Tehran, riot police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds as people headed toward the Iranian parliament. Witnesses posted videos on social media showing the harsh police action against the demonstrators, as well as protesters setting police motorcycles on fire,” Iran Wire reported, noting that “traditional Tehran bazaars have always been considered a bastion of support for the Islamic Republic and its authorities.”
Not any more, apparently.
The Rial exchange rate for Tuesday morning dropped to 86,000 IRR per one US dollar, down from 60,000 in the spring.
These are not only economic protests – they are anti-regime in general:
Journalist Tom Gross reports on his facebook page:
Some chants today:
“Not Lebanon, not Gaza. My life is devoted to Iran.”
“Death to Syria.”
“Palestine, [and] Syria, is the cause of [our] misery.”
“Death to Dictator.”
“Death to Khamenei.”
“Reza Shah, blessed be your soul.”
“Long live the Shah!”
“O honorable Iranian, support, support”
The protests today differ from previous protests according to this Times of Israel report:
At the end of last year, similar economic protests roiled Iran and spread to some 75 cities and towns, becoming the largest demonstrations in the country since its 2009 disputed presidential election. The protests in late December and early January saw at least 25 people killed and nearly 5,000 arrested.
However, those protests largely struck Iran’s provinces as opposed to Tehran itself. Analysts believe conservative elements in the regime may have encouraged the first protest that took place in Mashhad to try to weaken President Hassan Rouhani, considered a moderate member of the ruling ayatollah class. The protests then spiraled out of control, with people openly criticizing both Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The slogans heard at Monday’s rallies mark a shift in Iranian street protests, where “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” are commonly heard. The protests signaled widespread unease in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and restore sanctions on the country.
According to Hadashot TV news’s veteran Middle East analyst Ehud Ya’ari, Monday’s protests marked the first time that Iranians have chanted “Death to Palestine” during anti-regime protests.
In the last six months, Iran’s currency has lost almost 50 percent of its value, with the US dollar now buying around 85,000 rials on the open market.
The Iranian protestors are incredibly brave, taking their lives in their hands as they confront the police and Basij militia. Read and watch the following tweets:
Israel’s i24 TV news gives us some background to Iran’s economic woes:
“The demands of bazaar traders are legitimate. They want the situation on the foreign exchange market to be clarified once and for all,” Abdollah Esfiandari, head of the historical covered market’s administrative board, told ISNA news agency.
He said the protest was against “the high exchange rate, foreign currency fluctuations… goods being blocked at customs, and the lack of clear criteria for duties”.
Shops had their metal shutters down throughout the market, said 45-year-old carpet trader who grew up in the area. “It’s the first time in my life that I have seen this.”
Iran has faced mounting economic woes since the United States in May pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers that lifted international sanctions in exchange for a scaling back of the Islamic republic’s atomic program.
Apart from the rial’s collapse, the Iranian private sector has long been starved of investment, its banking system is crippled by bad loans and record levels of unemployment mean a third of under-30-year-olds are out of work.
In the face of Monday’s show of discontent, Iranian officials tried to reassure the public.
“The people must know that even in the most critical circumstances they will be allocated enough foreign currency at the official rate to provide for essential and vital goods,” said Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
The central bank governor, Valiollah Seif, went on state television to announce the creation of a “secondary” foreign exchange market for importers.
Iran’s central bank on April 15 forbade “until further notice” all exchange bureaus from dealing in foreign currency, leaving banks as the sole authorized buyers and sellers.
But in practice, banks have often refused to trade.
And contrary to those who mocked President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, it has had the desired effect:
The pressure on Iran’s economy since US President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal on May 8 has been more severe than originally forecast, Haaretz reported earlier this month.
Israeli leaders have reportedly been presented with intelligence which shows that the effects of the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal has also caused a greater rift between Iranian moderates and hardliners.
The Iranian regime’s support to Hezbollah, Assad, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Shi’ite militias in Syria and Iraq is estimated to cost some $1 billion annually which Iranians have begun protesting in street demonstrations across the country in light of the crippling economy.
According to Haaretz, Israeli intelligence assessed that Iran had hoped its economy would grow stronger after the 2015 nuclear deal but that it’s currently experiencing great difficulties.
However the US sanctions against companies doing business with Iran will go into effect in November and several companies doing business with the Islamic Republic have already reacted to Trump’s withdrawal, causing even greater stress to Iran’s economy.
Maybe Israel assisted in giving a spur to these Iranian protests. A video released by Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in which he addressed the Iranian public directly, offered to help them with their water shortage:
“Today I’m going to make an unprecedented offer to Iran,” Netanyahu said in the English-language video, which featured links to the State of Israel’s Persian website with information about water shortage, and to a Persian-language Telegram account.
“It relates to water,” Netanyahu says in the video, after pouring himself a glass of water and drinking it. “The Iranian people are victims of a cruel and tyrannical regime that denies them vital water. Israel stands with the people of Iran.”
Netanyahu stressed a commitment to help the Iranians. “And that is why I want to help save countless Iranian lives,” he said in the video clip. “Here’s how: Iran’s meteorological organization says that nearly 96% of Iran suffers from some levels of drought.
That video apparently gave a morale boost to the protestors:
Some six million people, including hundreds of thousands of Iranians, have viewed a video uploaded last week of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pouring himself a glass of water, taking a gulp, and offering Israeli water technology to the drought-hit Iranian people.
According to officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, this is one of the most widely viewed videos Netanyahu has yet placed on various social media platforms.
There are a number of goals in putting out these videos, [Netanyahu’s English-language spokesman David] Keyes said, with the primary one being: “Reach out directly to the Iranian people and show them that Israel is their friend, not – as the Iranian regime says – their enemy.”
Keyes had difficulty hiding his satisfaction that the video annoyed the Iranian leadership and succeeded in hitting a nerve, as seen by angry reactions by top officials – from the Foreign Ministry to the ministers of energy and agriculture.
The video was widely reported on in Iranian media, and generated thousands of responses, ranging from calls for “death to Israel” and amazement that Israel would offer water assistance to Iran while people were “dying of thirst” in Gaza, to comments such as “God bless Israel” and that this is a debt “you owe us from the time of Cyrus, when we helped the Jewish people.”
According to Israel Hayom (via the Jewish Press):
Close to 100,000 Iranians joined Israel’s Telegram channel in Farsi in the first 24 hours after the same video was uploaded. All in all, “Water for the Iranians” is Netanyahu’s second most watched video of all times, the first being his hit “Iranian nuclear archive” from two months ago.
Whether Netanyahu helped or not, I sincerely hope the Grand Bazaar Protests achieve the desired result of bringing down the evil regime of the Ayatollahs, and bringing in a new era of tolerance and progress. I wish all the brave protestors lots of success, and I hope they keep safe.
I hope this is the dawn of a real Persian Spring, and not a fiasco like the Arab Spring turned out to be.