Iran politics: Quick View - Economic hardship triggers protests

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Country Data and Maps
Economist Intelligence Unit
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Politics, News Analysis, Forecast, Political stability
Political Geography


Public protests, which began in Mashhad (Iran's second-largest city) on December 28th, have spread to a number of other cities, including Tehran.


The reasons for the protests appear to be rising inflation, following a recent increase in food prices, and a lack of economic development, as youth unemployment remains at about 40%, despite the promise of the administration of the president, Hassan Rouhani, that the 2015 nuclear deal agreed with world powers would help to create jobs and improve people's living standards. Initially, the government, and Mr Rouhani in particular, were the focus of the protests, with chants of "death to Rouhani" heard in Mashhad. This has fuelled speculation that Mr Rouhani's hardline opponents played some part in instigating the unrest. However, more unusually for the Islamic Republic, and also unusually for more religiously conservative areas, such as Mashhad and Kermanshah (where protests have also escalated), the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has also been the subject of some of the protesters' criticisms, indicating frustrations with the theocratic regime.

In the light of this, there are similarities to be drawn with the large-scale protests of 2009, when perceived election irregularities brought millions to the streets. Despite the size of those protests, the authorities managed to suppress them effectively after a crackdown by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on both protesters and various media platforms used by protesters. Similar tactics will be employed this time. Therefore, although the intensity of the protests will probably pick up in the short term in response, we expect measures by the security forces to be sufficient to mitigate the threat to the regime.

Despite the economic opportunities derived from the nuclear deal, issues such as youth unemployment could worsen, with job creation still lagging well behind the number of people entering the workforce. The combination of economic grievances and some dissatisfaction with the conservative religious establishment means that unrest will resurface in the forecast period. The latent threat to the regime will force the government to smooth some of the economic grievances by increasing welfare and subsidy payments to the poorest members of society. Iran's relations with the US, in particular, will also remain tense, with foreign powers blamed for stirring up social unrest.

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