Iranian officials turn blind-eye on waves of protests


How could Iranian officials miss the clear signs of an impending social explosion, at least since 2017, when the first angry antigovernment protests began?

This was the question Etemad newspaper in Tehran asked its readers on December 28, 2022.

“We were all watching everything, and sociologists had warned us of the looming wave of protests. How could we miss such a big event? Etemad asked.

Many analysts as well as ordinary Iranians believe it was Mahsa Amini’s death in ‘morality police’ custody that triggered the protests in mid-September, which still continue after three months.

Others, particularly Iranian reformists say the trigger was pulled long before when the firebrand Friday imam in Mashhad escalated his hardline rhetoric in support of compulsory hijab and charged that those who opposed strict measures against bad-hijab women were fighting the holy prophet.

Alamolhoda was earlier accused of instigating the nationwide protest in December 2017 by provoking the people to stand against then-president Hassan Rouhani’s economic policies. That protest went on for a couple of weeks in more than 85 cities, but the wave receded silently to rise once again louder and more widely in November 2019 in more than 100 cities.

Although Mahsa Amini, the young woman who was visiting Tehran where she was arrested, was an ordinary person, and Alamolhoda is one of the most powerful individuals in the ruling circles, observers say both were equally instrumental in bringing about the current wave of protests although they belonged to different extremes in the Iranian society.

Alamolhoda was later questioned by the Supreme Council of National Security for his role in the unrest, but he said he had no intention of provoking the people.

However, there was one sociologist in Iran in addition to dissidents who were predicting large-scale protests to the existing political, social repression and economic hardship.

Apparently, no one read Mohsen Goudarzi’s November 2020 article, Rebellious Citizen in Andisheh Pouya [Dynamic Thought] magazine. He had referred to continuous small protests by teachers, factory workers and retirees following the 2017 re-election of Rouhani. He argued that protests were taking place particularly in the provinces where the turnout and political participation were at their lowest.

The gunpowder barrel was there and was rolling toward the fire, but no one else saw it. The government, like always, attributed the protests to foreign powers and its only response was a harsh crackdown. In the meantime, reformists did nothing more than teasing the government for failing to keep everyone happy.

Goudarzi’s hypothesis that was based on keen observation of political movements in Iran was also valid about 2021 that brought Ebrahim Raisi to power with even a lower turnout in large parts of the country.

The hardliners who won the parliament in a low-turnout election in 2020 and the presidency a year later, just cared about monopolizing power, not political participation.

“Nearly in all of those areas there were accrued dissatisfaction about draught and unemployment among other things to which the government reacted by using violence that often led to protesters’ death”, observed Goudarzi.

Another Iranian sociologist, Asef Bayat, later observed that a new class of poor people has emerged in Iran, adding that unlike the protests in 2009 that was led by the middle class, the protests in 2018 and 2019 were steered by the poor city dwellers who have been left to their own devices by the government.

The government is still in denial of the protests and calls them riots instigated by foreigners and vows to crash them violently as Ebrahim Raisi said on December 27, 2022. No one in the government appears to have listened to Goudarzi and other sociologists, and as Goudarzi has said himself, they refuse to accept that although protests may recede at times, but they will definitely return with a bigger bang.


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