Friday 17 August 2018

US move will bolster protesters taking to streets in defiance

Students protest in Tehran over the economy. Photo: Getty Images
Students protest in Tehran over the economy. Photo: Getty Images

Analysis: Jodie Ensor

The most serious challenge to the Iranian establishment in a decade came this year - but it wasn't from the US or Donald Trump.

Instead it was the people who confronted the powers that be. And it could be the people who bring the regime crashing down, albeit with a helpful nudge from Mr Trump's latest sanctions.

Iranian protesters have been out on the streets for months calling for the fall of the government and berating its handling of the country's deepening economic crisis.

Farmers in the rural north angered over rising egg prices to the devout in the holy city of Qom, have joined the demonstrations.

In the past when things were going badly, Iranians blamed outside forces. They always believed their governments, which in the decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution have pointed the finger at the US, or 'The Great Satan', as the source of all its problems.

This time, the public have been turning their frustrations on their own leaders instead.

Some shout "Death to the Ayatollah (Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader)", "We don't want incompetent officials," scream others.

It is hard to tell just how big the protests are as the authorities quickly shut down the internet in areas of unrest and foreign journalists are denied access.

Frustration

"Prices are rising again, but the reason is government corruption, not US sanctions," said Ali, a 35-year-old decorator in Tehran.

Some see US hostility as a fact of life, so their frustration is largely directed at their leaders for not handling the situation better.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday rejected Mr Trump's offer to discuss the nuclear deal, but he will need to talk with the US eventually.

Many of those out on the streets have been angry working-class, demonstrating against spiralling food prices and the plummeting value of the rial, which has dropped 80pc in a year.

They complain that their government is spending billions on propping up proxies in foreign wars in Yemen and Syria, at their expense.

The first wave of sanctions - targeting Iran's access to US banknotes and key industries including cars and carpets - will hit the poor hardest but will hurt the middle class too.

Analysts believe that if and when the middle class joins the demonstrations, the establishment will have a real problem on its hands. The sanctions are a blunt weapon, which will further destabilise the already wobbly economy.

As the US's former Iran ambassador, John Limbert, put it - the US is not interested in an agreement with Iran, but rather a complete surrender.

Such a scenario is a long way off, but if protests continue to expand, Tehran may have more reason to negotiate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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