OVER the past few days, Iran has been rocked by nationwide protests sparked by a sharp rise in fuel prices and rationing of petrol, ostensibly to free up funds the state can spend on low-income citizens. Considering the pressures on the Iranian economy — and on the ordinary Iranian, thanks mainly to US sanctions — the fuel price hike has hit a raw nerve, with people taking to the streets to vent their anger. The demonstrations have descended into violence in several instances, with protesters resorting to arson attacks; the authorities have struck back, terming the demonstrators ‘rioters’. Information coming out of Iran has been difficult to verify as the state clamped down on the internet, with a near-total shutdown of the web lasting several days. Only on Thursday did reports emerge of partial internet restoration. According to Amnesty International, over 100 people have been killed in the protests; the Islamic Republic has termed the figure “speculative, not reliable”. This is, indeed, a disturbing situation and further information is needed to confirm the extent of the bloodshed. While violence cannot be condoned from any side, it is the Iranian state’s responsibility to handle protests — which are the people’s right — in a humane manner, applying non-lethal methods of crowd control in case things get out of hand. Shutting down the internet is just as unacceptable, as it prevents the people from exercising their right to communicate.
The Iranian state will have to work overtime to improve the economic situation of its people in the face of crippling US sanctions. The latter — triggered by the Trump administration after the US unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal — have dealt a deadly blow to the Iranian economy, ensuring that Tehran, a petrochemical powerhouse, is unable to sell its oil and gas or access the international financial system. This has fuelled civil unrest as Iranians have had to tighten their belts. Unless a solution to the impasse is found soon, instability is likely to increase in the Islamic Republic.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2019