Dissidents: Coronavirus Disaster Prompts Protest Wave in Iran

Iranians wearing masks walk past a mural displaying their national flag in Tehran on March 4, 2020. - Iran has scrambled to halt the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, shutting schools and universities, suspending major cultural and sporting events, and cutting back on work hours. (Photo by ATTA KENARE …
ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

According to Iranian resistance groups, a new mass protest movement is gaining steam in every corner of Iran, with people hitting the streets to protest the regime’s poor economic policies and hideous bungling of the coronavirus crisis.

The opposition PMOI/MEK reported stonemasons and the owners of fruit stores holding a rally on Wednesday to protest “poor economic conditions that have become unbearable for the general public.”

On the same day, employees of a provincial electric company in northeastern Iran reportedly held a rally to protest being required to work without adequate protection against the Wuhan coronavirus. Protesters said officials ignored their requests for gloves, masks, and disinfectant.

Tuesday reportedly saw protests from villagers in the Kurdistan region, including employees of the Sarigoni gold mine, who were angered that mine officials have replaced them with workers from other areas who are willing to accept lower wages, and employees of a water company in southwestern Iran who said their wages and pensions have been withheld. Dozens of workers allegedly went on strike in northwestern Iran for similar reasons, defying coronavirus-related orders to remain indoors so they could march in the streets.

Municipal workers across the country have protested slow payment of their wages, poor benefits, and ham-fisted attempts by the regime to suppress their protests instead of addressing their concerns.

“We have not been paid or received our pensions since February. Some workers have been summoned by authorities and we have been accused of provoking other workers to hold gatherings and protest rallies. They constantly resort to crackdown measures instead of paying our salaries and answering our questions,” one protester is quoted as saying.

“They’re demanding fees for internet service in our kids’ schools, their supplies, etc. The monthly rent for the store, the mortgage, both have risen, and all the while we are experiencing a bear market and we have no income. What else should I tell you? There’s not a single official willing to listen to these troubles. Name me one official who understands the people’s pains. They said they won’t return any checks, but they did. They said we won’t be demanding lease payments, but again they did. They said the price of bread won’t rise, but it did. They said food prices won’t rise, but it did. Show me one official who comes and listens to the people’s problems, and actually takes some action,” complained another.

In the coastal regions of southern Iran, PMOI claimed that fishermen protested shortages of fuel for the boats and price-gouging for gasoline, while farmers rallied to demand promised compensation for recent floods, and residents of the city of Rasht complained their deposits have been frozen by local banks.

Iranian state media has acknowledged the growing number of protests and expressed fears they could coalesce into a national movement with the potential for violence – or, to put it more cynically, a national movement threatening enough for the regime to use violence to suppress it.

“This time the protests will be more intense and violent,” one state-run daily warned last week. “It can be described as a super-movement protest in the country that will be attended by most of the lower and middle classes.”

Some Iranian state papers are predicting total economic collapse as a consequence of the coronavirus, while media more closely aligned with President Hassan Rouhani and his faction of the Iranian government are running optimistic editorials about Iranians setting aside their differences and coming together to recover from the pandemic.

Some of those editorials judiciously admitted the regime might have to address the obvious inequality between comfortable, highly-paid officials and impoverished citizens in order to defuse public anger.

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