Following a hike in gas prices, thousands of Iranians took to the streets in protest on Friday, in some places setting fire to banks and shops. While the regime has shut down the Internet, arrested hundreds, and killed at least a dozen, the demonstrations continue. Ray Takeyh explains what’s behind them, and what they portend:
The Iranian government might gain control of the streets once again, as has happened in the past. But the latest demonstrations reveal an uncomfortable truth for the regime: that the Islamic Republic is increasingly a government without supporters. While the demonstrations have not become as big or sustained as the 2009 “Green Revolution,” in which predominantly middle-class Iranians protested fraud in the presidential election, this current revolt represents a significant uprising by Iran’s working class, which had long been viewed as supportive of the ruling regime.
America today faces a hardline government in Iran that has forfeited much of its legitimacy, which suggests the United States should keep up the sanctions pressure to further weaken the regime’s standing.
The middle classes in Iran have long given up on the theocracy and its contrived political processes. The hardliners’ last pillar of support was thought to be the working class that they relentlessly venerate from their podiums. But the working poor care little about the government’s divine professions and are more interested in the welfare state that is now shrinking. As with the last days of the shah in the late 1970s, the Islamist ruling elite today seem oblivious of all that is crumbling around them. They will persist with involvement in Arab civil wars that the Persians disdain and revamp a nuclear program whose costs are more apparent than its benefits.
While Iran’s most consequential leaders don’t believe sanctions relief is the answer to their economic difficulties, they are wrong. Iran will always remain dependent on the export of oil, and the vagaries of the global economy will inevitably affect its financial vitality. . . . And with economic distress comes an explosive political problem, as the Iranian masses correctly blame their government’s missteps for all their suffering. The challenge for America is to deepen the theocracy’s self-inflicted wounds.