World View: Iran’s Anti-Government Protests Expand as Rial Currency Plummets

The Iranian rial has lost nearly two-thirds of its value since the start of the year

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Iran’s anti-government protests expand as rial currency plummets
  • The Grand Bazaar and the prospects for regime change

Iran’s anti-government protests expand as rial currency plummets

The Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran (OrigIran)
The Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran (OrigIran)

Massive demonstrations that began in December 2017 have been continuing intermittently in cities across Iran since then. On Tuesday, the protests spread to the historic central city of Isfahan.

The protests a month ago were triggered by the collapse in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial. At the end of 2017, the exchange rate was 42,000 rials to the U.S. dollar. A month ago, the exchange rate had fallen to 90,000 rials to the dollars. One of the chants that protesters used in last months demonstrations was “We don’t want the dollar at 100,000 rials!”

Well, on July 29 the exchange rate crossed the 100,000 milestone and, by Monday, the exchange rate was 110,000 rials to the dollar. The rate has been falling since May, when the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal, and announced that U.S. sanctions would be imposed on August 7.

The plunge in the value of the rial means that goods imported into Iran from other countries now cost two times or even three times as much as they used to.

As Americans, we are so used to being blamed for everything in the world, it is startling that the protesters are not blaming America for this increase in prices. Instead, they are blaming their own government.

Protesters blame the government for wasting the tens of billions of dollars that Iran received when sanctions were lifted after the nuclear deal was signed in 2015. From the point of view of protesters, that money simply vanished into thin air, and they blame that on the Iranian government, not the Americans. The protesters blame Iran’s massive corruption, especially among the clergy, and the money that is being spent on foreign wars in Syria and Lebanon.

Marchers on Tuesday were seen in video clips chanting “Leave Syria and think about us,” and “No to Gaza, No to Lebanon — I give my life to Iran.” The latter refers to billions of dollars being given to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Hamas in Gaza.

Other slogans were much more personal: “Death to the dictator,” referring to the Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khamenei.

VOA and AP and Arab News

The Grand Bazaar and the prospects for regime change

The frequency of protests in Iran since the beginning of the year has raised hopes in the West that regime change was close at hand.

This month there were protests for a very different reason – water shortages, pollution, and lack of water management. A vast agricultural area in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran lacks irrigation water. This is a region that was devastated by the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s and has a largely Arab population, which suffers official discrimination, as opposed to the majority Persian population. About 40 percent of Iran has been suffering from a serious drought since last year.

There is a great desire in the West for something called “regime change” in Iran, although it is rarely specified what that means. It could mean that the Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, gets replaced, but his replacement may be worse. In terms of violent repression, Khamenei actually is not very different from the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) who was deposed by the 1979 revolution.

As we described last month in “Brief generational history of Iran’s protests,” Tehran’s Grand Bazaar has played a pivotal role in protests and regime changes in the past.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world, with origins that go back as far as 1660 BC. It occupies over 8 square miles and has hundreds of shops. So when there is a widespread protest and strike supported by the shop owners, and suddenly all the shops are closed, it is a significant event.

The Tobacco Revolt of 1890-92 was led by tobacco merchants in the Grand Bazaar but quickly spread to other merchants. The revolt fizzled because of violence from the Shah. But in 1905, there were new protests, led this time by the sugar merchants in the Grand Bazaar. These protests led to a generational crisis civil war, the Constitutional Revolution, which was a major “regime change” for Iran in that the Shah was then bound by laws defined in the new constitution.

The White Revolution protests in 1962 were begun by a different set of élites: the clergy, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This was too soon after the Constitutional Revolution to spread widely, and it fizzled quickly.

However, it led to the Great Islamic Revolution in 1979. Once again, the merchants in the Grand Bazaar were among the leaders that brought about a major regime change – overthrowing the Shah and replacing him with Khomeini.

So now there are new protests by the merchants in the Grand Bazaar, thanks to the plunge in the value of the rial, something that affects them directly. Does that mean that regime change is at hand?

No, it does not. If there is some kind of widespread revolt, it will almost certainly fizzle, like the Tobacco Revolt and the White Revolution protests.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, there is a different kind of change at hand, an Awakening era climax similar to the one that forced President Richard Nixon to step down in America in 1974. This will be the climax of the political confrontation between the generations of old geezer survivors of the revolution and the people in the younger generations growing up after the revolution – the same young people who have been protesting in cities across Iran.

Depending on who is in charge after this change, it is possible that Iran will once again be the ally of the United States, just as it was prior to 1979. Reuters and Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and OrigIran and The Conversation (3-Jul)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iran, Tehran, Grand Bazaar, Isfahan, Seyed Ali Khamenei, Ruhollah Khomeini, Khuzestan, Iran/Iraq war, Tobacco Revolt, Constitutional Revolution, White Revolution, Islamic Revolution
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