Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 29 January 2020

Iranian regime must end cycle of violence

Repression and brutality are inbuilt in a leadership that exists to serve its interests first

Ordinary citizens have been driven onto the streets by a 50 per cent hike in petrol prices and monthly rations of 60 litres of petrol. EPA
Ordinary citizens have been driven onto the streets by a 50 per cent hike in petrol prices and monthly rations of 60 litres of petrol. EPA

As thousands of Iranians poured onto the streets of cities across the country last weekend, there were echoes of the anti-government protests that have erupted previously, most recently in December 2017, bringing much of Iran to a standstill. Then, about two dozen people were killed and at least 1,000 were arrested. But while the street scenes from Tehran to Mashhad might appear similar, there are striking differences between then and now. Two years ago, Iran was still being courted by western powers keen to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal. Since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018, Tehran has been squeezed by a “maximum pressure” US campaign involving successive rounds of sanctions on its regime and its proxies. In the ensuing economic crisis, the rial has plummeted in value by more than 60 per cent. Yet despite the obvious suffering of its citizens, regime leaders have responded with belligerence by ramping up their nuclear enrichment and ballistic missile programme, continuing to fund non-state actors in other lands and ploughing ahead with their imperialist ambitions to build an arc of power all the way to the Mediterranean.

They seem blind or indifferent or both to the pleas for change from ordinary citizens, who have been driven onto the streets by a 50 per cent hike in petrol prices and monthly rations of 60 litres of petrol. Fuel in Iran is still among the cheapest in the world at Dh1.30 per litre; it says much about the desperation of Iranians that its cost is enough to make them risk their lives by taking to the streets once again.

One citizen has already been killed and several others injured, with interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issuing the threat of a forceful crackdown by security forces if protests continue. This is unsurprising; repression and brutality are inbuilt in a punitive leadership that exists to serve its own interests first, at the expense of its people. While Iran is not officially at war, officials have said they consider the confrontation with the US and Washington’s renewal of sanctions as a declaration of war. In fact, rather than curbing its malevolent behaviour abroad and at home, the regime has only ramped up the export of its so-called Islamic revolution to other countries in the region, including Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, leaving many to ask why a country struggling to feed its own citizens must spend blood and treasure in other countries.

This is not the first time the regime has demonstrated its skewed priorities and responded with gunfire and tear gas. Twenty years ago, when thousands of students demanded change on the streets of Iran, dozens disappeared on the orders of the supposedly moderate president, Mohammed Khatami. And in 2009, when they thronged once again in protest against the re-election of then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at least 2,500 were arrested and the death toll was thought to be in the hundreds.

Undeterred, protesters have continued to demand their right to a better quality of life. Iran is home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves. Its people should be benefiting from its rich resources but its self-serving government is only interested in helping a tiny elite. Inflation and unemployment are rampant, exacerbated by the US sanctions, but have had little impact on Tehran’s behaviour. Instead, it has concocted front companies to continue its malfeasance and bypass sanctions, despite attempts from Arab neighbours to extend the hand of diplomacy. As Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said last week, it is the only solution to “create a new, more stable regional order in which all countries will be able to thrive”.

The mistakes of the regime cannot be repeated in an endless cycle of violence and brutality against the very people it claims to serve. Their lives matter too much to be sacrificed and their calls must be heeded.

Updated: November 17, 2019 06:23 PM

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