Iranians Protest Weak Economy During Rouhani Re-Election Campaign

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ran into an unexpectedly large and angry protest over Iran’s slow economy during a campaign stop on Sunday, producing a viral video eagerly promoted by the supporters of rival candidates.

Reuters describes the video as “shaky footage” of a man jumping onto the hood of Rouhani’s car and “stamping hard on the metalwork” when the president visited a coal mine in northern Iran.

The official purpose of his visit was to extend condolences to the families of at least 35 miners killed in an explosion last week, but Rouhani encountered demonstrators who complained about “poor safety standards, late payments, poor insurance coverage and seasonal unemployment,” among other issues.

Media outlets that support “hardline” opposing candidates portrayed the miners as representative of lower and middle-class Iranians who feel Rouhani has not delivered on his promises.

Rouhani supporters countered by saying the protest was staged, noting that similar slogans were chanted at a demonstration last week at the mausoleum of modern Iran’s founder, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. They also argue Iran’s slow economy is more a result of falling oil prices than Rouhani’s policies and that uncertainty over the future of the Iran nuclear deal has driven off the foreign investors Iran needs.

“All the positive results of the nuclear deal and lifting of sanctions have been overshadowed by the low prices of oil,” pro-Rouhani economist Saeed Laylaz told Reuters.

The BBC notes that Iran’s economy grew 6.6 percent last year, according to International Monetary Fund estimates, but the housing sector shrank 13 percent and unemployment rose 1.7 percent, leaving roughly a third of young people and half of young women without jobs. Rouhani’s top rivals have been offering generous unemployment benefits, cash payments to the poor, and superior job creation plans, although they are vague about how their proposals would be paid for.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized Rouhani on Sunday for pushing a “Western-influenced,” U.N.-approved education plan. He was especially critical of the cultural influence such a program might exert on Iranian youth. Reuters notes other “hardline commentators” in Iran have been particularly critical of the gender equality component of UNESCO education plans.

“In this country, the basis is Islam and the Koran. This is not a place where the faulty, corrupt and destructive Western lifestyle will be allowed to spread its influence… It makes no sense to accept such a document in the Islamic Republic,” said Khamenei, who has been distancing himself from Rouhani, but has not formally endorsed any of his rivals.

Rouhani fired back on Monday by dismissing his opponents as violent extremists from a bygone era.

“The people of Iran shall once again announce that they don’t approve of those who only called for executions and jail throughout the last 38 years. We’ve entered this election to tell those practicing violence and extremism that your era is over,” he said at a stadium rally.


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