Iran Protests – Ayatolld me not to come…that ain’t the way to have fun

So Iran is back in the news again; there’s always something fun going on there! The country seems to have exploded in protests, something many analysts had previously thought near impossible. These protests are complex and still evolving (having only started December 28th), appearing to be various forms of cathartic action with outpourings of anger over food price increases, strict religious rule and corruption. Somewhat negligently, analysts appear not to have predicted instability in Iran (despite the high/volatile food prices, young population and regional instability).

In 2009 the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ made headlines: a series of large protests in response to what people saw as a fixed election. Whilst Iran is not quite a dictatorship, it is not quite a democracy. People do vote for a President and parliament, however, the religious leadership and Ayatollah tightly vet which candidates are even allowed to run. Furthermore the actual authority of the political leadership is capped, as religious figures control the powerful Revolutionary Guard, therefore dictating nuclear and foreign policy. The main differences, however, between the protests we’re seeing now and those of the Green Revolution is that the former were primarily in Tehran and attended mainly by the middle and upper classes. These protests are largely being driven by lower socio-economic status rural and non-Tehranis. This group has long been seen as the Ayatollah’s base and was assumed to be subservient if not content, and their dissent indicates that we may be about to see something big.

Predictably the country’s leadership is attempting to spin this as a foreign lead intervention, an American or Zionist plot to overthrow the Islamic Revolution. This is a common cudgel that Iranian politicians use to shore up domestic support and curtail opposition, after all, how could any proud Iranian support a counter-revolutionary plot lead by the “Great Satan” or an “enemy of Islam”? The reason for this historic mistrust is complicated, runs very deep*, and has been shown in the past to be a fairly effective tool for scapegoating problems, this time however, it may not work.

We may be watching something very important play out in Iran. In 2011 we saw the rest of the Arab world burst into chaos with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets, demanding a better future. We saw these men and women angry about three things: “Aish, Horreya, Adala Egtema’eya” or “Bread, Freedom, Social justice”. Iran largely avoided the 2011 protests, but the current riots are looking a whole lot like them. If Iran were to fall into disarray, there could be huge effects. If the economy crashed or the country became stuck in political limbo, Iranian support for Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen would drop. This could result in further destabilizations from shifts in the local balances of power. If the new political leadership took a moderate leaning it could signify a warming of relations between Iran and the West, potentially ensuring compliance with the P5+1 Nuclear deal. If however a hardliner like former President Ahmadinejad were to take charge, then we could see a whole host of catastrophic results, for instance, a restarting of the nuclear program, increased proliferation of Iranian made missiles or missile technology to rogue states such as North Korea, a more antagonistic relationship with Israel or a return to Iranian directed global terrorism like back in the bad ol’ days.

* The hatred between Iran, Israel and the United States stems back to when the US government and some oil companies (nicknamed the Seven Sisters) propped up the Iranian leader, the Shah. Now the Shah was not exactly a cool guy, super corrupt, mean etc., no one there really liked him and he was kicked out in the 1979 Islamic Revolution (see film Argo for vague context). Since then, the US and Iran’s relationship has only worsened. Now one of America’s best friends so to speak, is Israel. One of the primary reasons is the high spending pro-Israel American Super PACs. The Israel/Evangelical Christian lobbies are particularly strong. These groups collect money and attempt to sway the government to their personal views (basically first-world bribery). PACs are not limited to these particular communities; everyone has Super PACs, from dairy farmers, to tech companies like Facebook. Anyway, Iran really hates Israel, this is due to a complex mixture of reasons ranging from anger at Israeli breaches of sovereignty, to historical annoyance at their basic existence, to just good old fashioned anti-Semitism. Now the US has been supporting Israel with lots of money and weapons so naturally, this too has ultimately increased the mistrust between Iran and America. Adding to this, Western sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy, making life more difficult for the population (although these have now been partially lifted after the P5+1 deal).

* Nick Melendez is a Lib Dem member in Hackney and is Ward Champion for Hoxton West

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This entry was posted in Europe / International.


  • The headline seems in poor taste considering the violence.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Jan '18 - 11:32am

    LDV editors do a great job. They have certainly salvaged more articles of mine than I care to mention by adding a nice photo, a better headline or by extracting howlers or spelling mistakes! On this occasion though a mistake has got through and that headline needs to be changed.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Jan '18 - 12:51pm

    Agree with colleagues, Nick does not make a strong go of saying anything here because he begins with a daft header and carries on with a narrative , instead of a polemic or viewpoint.

    And could somebody please see the Americans and the Jewish people, as more than a pro Israel lobby, and if they can be seen thus, it is for reasons we can well understand.

    There is a strong anti big business anti semitic connection on the farther left, that is as bad as the prejudice on the far right, a decent Liberal Democrat, including Nick herein, should be aware of it and sensitive due to it.

    Iran needs all the views exposed, here an attempt goes awry.

  • Tomas Howard-Jones 4th Jan '18 - 9:07pm

    Weird article. No mention of Mossadeq, the 1953 coup (maybe ancient history to some, but it still echoes in Iranian national pride), or generally the Iranians have justified knowledge and paranoia of foreign power interventions (Britain No.1, America No.2, Iraq No.3, Russia No.4) invading, removing and installing its govts without consent of its people several times through the last 100 years.

  • Tomas Howard-Jones 4th Jan '18 - 9:24pm

    Antisemitism in Iran? I don’t know, not being a jewish iranian living there- but I suspect the writer and Lorenzo Cherin’s first hand experience on that matter are similarly limited. Yes, there are many people who don’t have a clue who will doubtless bring up hashed impressions formed from that notorious politically mistranslated remark from Ahmedinedjad, the Buenos Aires bombing, Hezbollah (a reaction of the Lebanese Shia communities to the IDF invasion of Lebanon against the PLO and subsequent US attempts to impose their & Israeli hegemony) and talk about the islamic revolutionary panto slogans of Margh bargh Israel, Amrika, and execution of the Shah’s jewish iranian minister (because he was of the overthrown regime) . It’s anti israeli, absolutely, but appreciate that some people will equate this to antisemitism- even if the Iranian regime has OTHERWISE no problem with jewish people and respects the faith and still has the largest jewish population in the whole Asian and African continents after Israel.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Jan '18 - 2:42am

    Tomas I said on the left not in Iran !

  • Ed Shepherd 5th Jan '18 - 7:24am

    I am not sure that Iran should be described a part of “the Arab world”. I thought that most Iranians are not Arabs. Iranians seem very proud of their long and often prestigious history. Their democracy might be flawed but at least there are democratic structures that can develop more in the future. I read somewhere that seats in Irans parliament are reserved for Jewish MPs and other minorities. But our deeply flawed democracies in the West support regional despots but stir up propagnda against Iran. The Shah was a brutal killer and the West should never have supported him but should have encouraged democracy. Bush and Blairs war in Iraq created dangerous instability on Irans border. No wonder Iran had another reason to be angry about the stupidity of the USA and GB. No doubt that like any nation Iran will change and develop as new generations grow. Iran has an interestng artistic and architectural history and is now prominent in cinema. In the Western nations we should look to fix our own faults rather than interfering in other countries that our dimwitted greedy leaders do not understand.

  • The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (in various incarnations) held the concession on Iranian oil production from its discovery in 1908 until the Iranian government nationalised the industry in 1951 (one of the triggers for the British backed coup to overthrow the government). In 1950 the total income of the Iranian government from royalties and taxation from oil was about £35 million: in 1975 it was over £10,000 million. This is a clear case of British economic imperialism holding back the potential development of a nation state and causing needless economic hardship to millions of its citizens for decades. If I was an Iranian I think I would probably still hold a grudge against Britain for this.

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