On Dec. 28, 2017, protests broke out in Iran over the dire economic situation and government corruption in the country. The demonstrators also protested against Iran’s military and financial involvement in neighboring countries as Iran’s economy crashed.
Those protests lasted until January, with the regime doing everything in its power to keep them from being connected to the Feb. 11 anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s situation has only worsened over the past year. To the plethora of problems it was already facing were added U.S. sanctions, now enforced by countries who feared U.S. retribution if they continued doing business with Iran. The resulting economic situation has shattered Iran’s currency beyond recognition, to the extent that other Asian countries have begun to treat it a little bit differently.
While it cannot be said that the Iranian regime did nothing to break out of this financial crisis, it has pretty much ignored the social protests and continues to behave as it sees fit in the Middle East. Gone is the smile we once saw on the face of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In its place is a serious look, one reflective not of any anxiety over the country’s fate, but rather concern for the Iranian nuclear program and the future of the Islamic Revolution.
Over the past year, additional sectors that normally provide the base of support for the ayatollah regime have joined the social protests. With no immediate solutions in sight and citizens losing trust in the government’s ongoing efforts to contend with the issues at hand, the protests delineate a line between the regime and those who although deeply disappointed in the government have remained steadfast in their loyalty up until now.
Grappling with aggressive U.S. policy under President Donald Trump, one would have expected the Iranian government to take diplomatic steps to reach a better deal with the United States. After all, the Iranians prided themselves on their clever ability to contend with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and European states.
But the reality is that some European countries remain loyal to the 2015 nuclear agreement not because Iran is adhering to the deal, but because Europe finds it difficult to agree with Trump’s policies or justify them implicitly. The one thing those countries have in common with Iran is that they are waiting for Trump to be out of the picture. Europe wants to cut deals at the expense of the security of the Middle East and the world in general, and Trump is getting in its way.
In light of the ongoing financial crisis in Iran, the double standard employed by these countries is conspicuous. Iran is experiencing a crisis that has led to an increase in prostitution, a growing drug trade, a spike in suicides and executions, and the systemic persecution of minorities. None of these issues, though, are enough to rouse Europe up from its slumber and convince it to dictate a different nuclear deal to Iran, one that just might bring Tehran to take care of its own people and Iranian society as a civilized country should.
The revolutionary failure echoes throughout every corner of Iran. Even firm believers in the Islamic Revolution inside the Iran Revolutionary Guards understand it is just a matter of time before the revolution implodes and blows up in everyone’s face. Many of the members of the Revolutionary Guards are forbidden from leaving Iran and transferring money overseas, out of concern that this would lead to the sweeping departure of the elite core that tows the conservative line.
Although the current regime is no less disconnected from the people than Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was before he was overthrown nearly 40 years ago, the ayatollahs understand that the fact that even hard-line supporters recently took to the streets to protest the financial situation is an ominous sign of things to come. Absent a significant improvement in the immediate future, or at the very least the adoption of a social, economic and diplomatic agenda in the country, it will not be long before the stomachs of the revolution’s strongest supporters also begin to rumble.
Unlike the other groups that until recently remained loyal to the regime, this group will be less forgiving toward its masters, Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ronen A. Cohen is the head of the Israel and Middle Eastern Studies Department at Ariel University.