Yesterday, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and to re-impose sanctions, an action that will no doubt exacerbate the country’s economic problems. But, U.S. policy decisions aside, Iran may already be facing a serious domestic crisis, as evidenced by an outbreak of strikes and labor unrest over the weekend. Sohrab Ahmari draws a parallel between the current situation and the events over a century ago that led to the fall of Persia’s Qajar dynasty:
The tobacco boycott of 1891 was a remarkable act of popular resistance against a humiliating monopoly concession granted by the shah to a British firm. . . . The shah would rescind the concession by the end of the year. Five years later, while the shah was supplicating the Almighty at a shrine outside Tehran, a cloaked figure approached him from behind, aimed a rusty revolver at the “king of kings,” and fired. . . . [T]he pair of events—the 1891 boycott and the 1896 assassination—marked the beginning of the end of his Qajar dynasty.
Today, the evidence is mounting that the Islamic Republic has entered a similar death spiral. The nationwide eruption of labor strikes is only the latest sign. . . . While working-class Iranians struggle to put food on the table—prices have climbed more than 10 percent a year, unemployment hovers north of 12 percent, and having a job is no guarantee that one gets paid—the Tehran regime has spent the lion’s share of the proceeds from the nuclear deal on military adventures from Yemen to Syria.
[Furthermore], labor unrest is far from the mullahs’ only headache. The current strikes follow the New Year’s uprising, which saw thousands of Iranians pour into the streets in December and January. Their slogans initially concerned graft and corruption but quickly morphed into outright opposition to the Islamic Republic in toto. Then came the (ongoing) movement of women who publicly remove their headscarves in protest against compulsory veiling. In the most bizarre twist yet, last month’s discovery of a mummified body believed to belong to Reza Shah Pahlavi, the great modernizing monarch who deposed the Qajar dynasty, galvanized anti-regime sentiment, with soccer fans taking to their stadiums to chant “Long live Reza Shah!”
All this is reminiscent of the chaos and pandemonium that accompanied the collapse of the Qajars. In the final years of the dynasty, the Qajar fisc was perennially empty. Tribal chiefs refused to pay taxes. Radical underground societies of various stripes—Islamist, nationalist, Communist—were spreading across the country. Prophets and assassins and prophetic assassins shook the land. The only difference is that the mullahs combine the venality and corruption of the Qajars with a fanatical and deeply anti-Iranian Islamist ideology, which makes them all the more vulnerable to a renascent Iranian nationalism.