Why are people protesting in Iran?

As thousands demonstrate against economic policies in various cities, Al Jazeera speaks to analyst Mohammad Marandi.

Tensions are high in Iran as hundreds of people protest in multiple cities against the government’s economic policies.

About 300 people protested in Kermanshah, a city in western Iran, on Friday, according to the semi-state news agency Fars. Police there used water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Protests also broke out in the capital, Tehran, according to social media.

The demonstrations are said to be the biggest display of public dissent since pro-reform rallies swept the country in 2009.

US President Donald Trump has warned Iran’s government to respect the people’s right to protest. 

Relations between Washington and Tehran have been particularly tense since Trump decertified the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – agreed to by the US, China, Russia, Germany, France, and the UK – imposes restrictions on Iran’s stockpiles of uranium and the capacity to enrich it, in exchange for sanctions relief.

Al Jazeera spoke to Mohammad Marandi, professor at Tehran University, about the reasons behind the recent anti-government rallies.

Al Jazeera: Why have people been protesting over the past few days?

Mohammad Marandi: There are economic difficulties in the country.

After the JCPOA, many of the Iranian people had expectations that the economic situation would improve, but, as we saw, both [former President Barack] Obama and Trump repeatedly violated the JCPOA by passing new laws, such as the Iran sanctions act and the visa restriction laws.

The treasury and other arms of the government, both under Obama and Trump, have basically weakened the JCPOA extensively, which has kept a lot of the sanctions regime intact.

Al Jazeera: There have been small protests over economic conditions in Iran. But what’s special about these ones is that they have spread to numerous cities and have been picked up on social media. Is some sort of movement emerging?

Marandi: It’s difficult to say, because, on the one hand, the economic situation is something that exists across the board.

Iranians, I think, while they are upset with mismanagement, they also recognise that the administration is being prevented from doing a lot of what it’s trying to do because of the United States and its allies, and the sanctions that I mentioned.

And, of course, social media makes things easier, so people have information.

But also, there is a fact that has to be kept in mind, that, while some people have been protesting economic problems, we do see a very distinct effort on behalf of foreign governments.

For example, BBC Persian, which belongs to the British government, VOA which is owned by the US government, and media outlets that are directly or indirectly funded by the West – they are showing an effort to expand the protests.

They are trying to intensify them in order to politicise them.

While Iranians are upset with mismanagement, they also recognise that the administration is being prevented from doing a lot of what it's trying to do because of the US and its allies.

by Mohammad Marandi, University of Tehran professor

Al Jazeera: The government recognises that these protests are about more than the economics of the country. We’re hearing anti-government slogans – “Death to Rouhani”, “Forget Palestine”, “No to Gaza”, “No to Lebanon” – deriding Iran’s foreign policies. How concerned is the government about this?

Marandi: Well, the protesters … are not large in number. You have to keep in mind that these protesters are not all chanting the same slogans.

Some of them have been chanting anti-government slogans or slogans against Iranian foreign policy.

But when you look at the clips, you see that in some cases there is unity in the slogans and in other cases, when there are radical voices, then you see a lot of the crowd not repeating the slogans. So it’s not so simple.

But there is a concerted effort, I think, on behalf of the Western media outlets.

In Iran, whenever there is any sign of discontent, you will always have the think tanks and Western media saying that the regime is about to implode and the regime is unpopular. We have been hearing that for 39 years now, and I don’t expect anything like it to happen in the future.

Al Jazeera: It is quite interesting to see how quickly the Trump administration jumped on these protests, warning the government not to react with a heavy hand…

Marandi: Yes, it is ironic, especially with Trump being such a divisive figure inside the United States with the protests and counter-protests.

In Charlottesville, we had a person killed. On the other hand, we see that the US is supporting Saudi Arabia in the destruction of Yemen in mass genocide through starvation.

We see the United States, both under Obama and Trump, supporting extremist groups in Syria, so it’s not really for the US to talk about human rights when it comes to Iran. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Source: Al Jazeera