Dictatorial regimes won’t last for long for they can’t clear the challenges of time. And once an end to the existing momentum is found, huge uprisings and revolt against the existing system becomes inevitable. This was the case with the Arab spring, which swept across the Middle East in the late 2011– something that led to the falling of several dictators and regimes. However, the result of the chaos was not democracy or freedom, as was expected. Instead, it was the emergence of a polity where there was no one to control the mantle of power.
Many of the countries that went through the Arab spring are struggling even today due to the power imbalances within their polity. As the protests against the State are shaking the powerhouses of Tehran, the world is fearing of the birth of another unstable country in the Middle East. Iranian streets are being painted red, and people seem determined. The civil unrest is gaining momentum, with many more flocking in support of this chain of protests each day. What makes these protests more powerful than ever is the large participation of the rebellious Iranian youth, who are frustrated by the polity of their country.
The protest started on 28th of December 2017 in the city of Mashhad, Iran’s second largest urban space in terms of population. Initial protest was largely targeting the economic conditions, but soon grew to include questions regarding the legitimacy of the Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. The movement which started as a small demonstration soon turned into a bloody violence as protesters started attacking government offices and destroying public property. This was later worsened when pro-government protesters clashed with the anti-government movement. As the protest is expanding like ever before, things don’t seem good from the perspective of the Iranian government.
There are two factors that make this protest different from the ones that shook Iran in the past. Even the Student Uprising of 1999 or the Green movement of 2009 missed the momentum that the current rebellion enjoys. Essentially, the 2018 protests demonstrate the growing gap between the generations and various sections in the Iranian society. The liberal, rebellious Iranian youth of ages 25 or less stand at one side and on the other, the conservative religious class who backs the clergy. What makes them different is their social experience.
While the conservative sections have the experience of the 1979 revolution, something that is missing for the young men and women of Iran. For the young Iranians, they are deprived of the basic liberties and freedoms that their counterparts enjoy in other countries. This dominance of conservative sections of the society have been long hurting the young population. Adding to this wound is the ongoing economic stagnation along with declining opportunities for work and a deteriorating standard of living. The theocratic system that Iran has been following since 1979 is also becoming increasingly unacceptable for young Iranians; theological sovereignty is being questioned.
One might wonder how the international media and political observers are looking at this issue with a lot of interest. Though it is an internal issue of Iran, it will have a ripple effect not limited to the Middle East. An area of concern would be the political balance in the region. We may observe a Middle East at present, which is largely divided in the lines of Shia-Sunni Islamic sects and Saudi Arabia and Iran taking the lead. If Iran collapses, what we might experience would be the emergence of Saudi as a regional hegemony. This will also cause a drain of Russian power in the region and further vulnerabilities for the Assad regime in Syria.
The most significant of all would be the impact on global economy. The prices of crude oil continue to be low in the recent past to the credit of Iran. Iran, who had to face the challenges of the economic sanctions till recently, resumed production of oil to the pre-blockade levels in the late 2014. Since then, the world has been receiving oil supply at cheaper rates. If the Iranian economy collapses owing to ongoing protests, the repercussions will be felt on the global supply of oil and its prices.
As oil imports eats up a majority of the Forex for several countries, including India, long term macroeconomic implications can be foreseen. A surge in the oil prices will also cause inflationary trends across various sectors as oil forms a crucial component of production process, directly or indirectly. It can not be affirmed whether the protests will grow into further level and topple Iran’s theocratic regime. However, this protest will surely mark a shift in the societal and political composition of the Iranian community and the way they perceive their own country.
-Contributed by Jiss Palelil
Picture Credits: www.iisg.nl