Social media is our main source of news and spin abounds. But there are some conclusions we can draw from the apparently widespread protests in Iranby Ali Ansari / January 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
The protests that have spread through Iran like a series of bush fires have taken most observers, not least the Iranian authorities, by surprise.
What ostensibly began as a protest against economic hardship in the north-eastern city of Mashhad—with, it was suggested, some encouragement and support by hard-line critics of President Rouhani—has prompted a series of copycat demonstrations, some of which have turned violent, throughout the country, including in villages and towns that even some residents of Tehran have never heard of.
It has resulted in a degree of bewilderment as well as the traditional slide into conspiracy theories about the role of the “hidden hand”—whether foreign or indeed, in this case, domestic.
A word of caution
First, a note of caution. Quite apart from the astonishing geographic spread of the protests, we have little information of their depth and the extent of the anger being expressed.
What information we do have is largely garnered through social media. Seeing a protest through the lens of smart phone gives little indication of its size and anecdotal evidence does suggest that the protests are localised.
The absence of journalists beyond the confines of Tehran—to say nothing of foreign journalists, who are largely banned from Iran—means that the information is difficult to verify. In some cases, videos have been posted on social media from the uprising in 2009.
Anger and malaise
There is little evidence of an organised movement, still less a revolutionary head of steam. But neither should we trivialise developments, regard them as purely economic and/or an expression of some sort of Iranian “civil rights” movement.
There is clearly something more visceral and angry going on, with many people having reached the end of their tether as far as the government, and the regime’s promises, are concerned.
That at least 22 people have died, including a number of law enforcement officials, within a week of the protests starting is surely the clearest indication that this is not some little local difficulty. Indeed, whatever the immediate consequences, the protests are indicative of a wider and profound malaise in the body politic of the Islamic Republic.
This is not a narrative that sits easily with…