Fresh protests could flare up again across Iran, as reports of “widespread discontent” and “deep mistrust” continue to sweep across the country. According to research conducted by Iran’s Network for Public Policy Studies (NPPS) into the roots of the nationwide protests that gripped Iran in late December and early January [Persian link], Iranian citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with life under the Islamic Republic system, and so took to the streets to voice their grievances. It also warned people could demonstrate again soon.
NPPS is an academic peer-reviewed website supervised by the Iranian President’s Center for Strategic Studies. Its study describes the protests as “unique” for three reasons: the “extent” of the protest, the people who took part in the protests, which it refers to as “participating social classes,” and the nature of the slogans that the protesters chanted.
“For the moment the protests have died down after the use of force,” the study says. “But, considering the depth of social discontent, it can be expected that this fire could be reignited by a small spark.”
The study is direct, frank and often damning, declaring: “turmoil in the Middle East and the fate of leaders such as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, [former Yemeni President] Ali Abdullah Saleh and [Taliban leader] Mullah Mohammed Omar, who were once the most powerful people in their countries, has worried the leaders of the Islamic Republic.”
The report goes on to analyze the public’s attitudes toward government solutions to the country’s most serious problems, including the water crisis, the environment and natural resources, the end of cash subsidies, and the failure to reform the tax system.
“The roots of discontent and protests by Iranian people can be found in the inability of the government to fulfill repeated promises to the people,” the report says. ”This series of complaints show, says the NPPS report, “that the government needs a serious change in how it confronts the problems of the country…People have realized that there is no magician [among the authorities of the Islamic Republic authorities] who can pull a rabbit out of his hat and…there is no magic key in anybody’s pocket that can solve the problems…Decision-makers must have the wisdom and the audacity not to leave reform of the defective structure of today to an unknown tomorrow.”
The report also criticizes suggestions that the country can rely on income from oil exports to solve Iran’s problems.
“If in the past decades,” warns the report, “the government was not able to make 30 or 40 million Iranians happy by selling an oil that was more expensive and more plentiful — even though both the people and the authorities were in the grips of revolutionary passion — who in his right mind can believe that we can fulfill our promises by following the practices of the past now that the resources are much more limited, chronic problems have piled up and, most importantly, there is deep distrust among the people? If a government could not fulfill its promises when it was at its most powerful, then undoubtedly it cannot follow the same path and be successful today.”
The study argues that, in addition to people’s discontent, the protests were also spurred on by disgruntlement with the performance of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and of other government and state institutions.
Three additional studies published by the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology’s Research Institute of Strategic Studies (RIST) also offer analyses of various aspects of the protests.
In the first study, entitled “Recent Protests and Unrest: Background and Answers” [Persian link], RIST reports that the rapid spread of the protests and their scope “caught observers off-guard.” It argues that warnings about social, political and economic divisions in the country had been repeated so many times that they lost their effectiveness, and in such a climate “not many people expected that the country would witness such widespread protests and gatherings in such a short time.”
“Bad economic conditions are the undeniable background factors in recent protest. The rates of unemployment in some of the areas where the scenes of unrest were not only higher than the rate of unemployment in the country, but they are even higher than the average for the provinces” where they are located. The study warns that unless the political system initiates “a serious and comprehensive response” to demands by protesters, there is a “danger of such protests becoming chronic, resulting in a repeat of street violence,” says the RIST report.
The second study by the research institute, entitled “Causes of Going from Discontent to Street Unrest,” cites four “weaknesses” of the political system that contributed to the protests and led to a move from “discontent” to “street unrest” [Persian link]. The first factor the report cites is “the piling up of unanswered demands” by different strata and classes in the Iranian society under various governments. A second factor is “the destructive and zero-sum rivalry among government elite and the split of these elite into [irreconcilable] factions.”
The institute also points to “the intensification of social and structural problems from corruption, unemployment, social ills and hopelessness” and “the government’s inability to solve and manage them.” The report also says that elections have lost credibility as a means of setting things right.
The nationwide protests that spread to at least 100 cities in late December and early January was indeed “unprecedented” in the history of the Islamic Republic — which other think tanks and research institutes have also pointed out. The protests led to at least 25 deaths and the arrest of thousands, many of whom are still in custody.
The political, social, economic and cultural roots of the protests are now clear to observers and analysts. The officials of the Islamic Republic are also undoubtedly aware of the depth of corruption, inefficiencies, shortages and discrimination in Iran. The big question — the missing link — is whether they have the will, the ability and the courage to address the problems that ultimately led to “discontent” being transformed into street protests.