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Can the subaltern speak English?

7 34 120
18.01.2018

In the most widespread series of demonstrations in Iran against structural poverty, rampant corruption, and political tyranny in almost a decade, mostly poor, underemployed, and unemployed Iranians poured into the streets of their country and challenged the ruling apparatus of the Islamic Republic.

By all accounts most of the evident demands of the demonstrators were economic, but no economic demand is ever without a potent political twist. As the Egyptian slogan used to say - combining both economic and political: "Freedom, Human Dignity, and Bread!"

A few weeks after the sudden rise and eventual pacification of these uprisings, various factions invested in them were still trying to put their own spin on what they meant and where they were headed. Not since the heydays of the Green Movement in Iran and the Arab Spring had we seen such outburst of social unrest. Amid the global focus on the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), these demonstrations in Iran suddenly reminded the world of the presence of people and their demands.

But what did exactly happen in Iran - and how are we to read it? Scattered but altogether substantial demonstrations spread like wildfire through some 80 cities and resulted in more than two dozen fatalities, with hundreds arrested. What were these rallies: signs of revolt, widespread protest, chaotic disturbances, or just plain old-fashioned plots to dismantle the ruling regime?

The ruling state in Iran dubbed these protests as "fetneh" (sedition) and dismissed them as plots by foreigners, especially Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States. They were so convinced that these were foreign conspiracies to put political challenges to their legitimacy that they immediately arranged for counter-demonstrations to show how popular they are.

While some high-ranking officials acknowledged there were legitimate economic grievances for these protests, they nevertheless called on a massive constituency of their employees and wage-earners to march along with their families to show the world they supported their "beloved" Islamic Republic. The state employees and others whose livelihood depends on the state did as they were told.

The more liberal and reformist factions of the ruling regime were dumbstruck and did not know what to say about the protests.This particular uprising was out of their control. They could not abuse them to negotiate a meagre share of power for themselves in the upper echelons of the state. So in effect, they dismissed, denounced, and denigrated them as "blind violence".

These demonstrations may not have resulted in dismantling the ruling regime. But they most certainly exposed the reformists to be part and parcel of the tyranny.

Meanwhile, the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia were quick to embrace and endorse these protests as the outbreak of a democratic uprising. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, even took the matter to the UN Security Council - which of course backfired and other council members publicly denounced her for her opportunistic charlatanism.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted and taped their messages of solidarity to the "Iranian people", while the Saudi media were abuzz exaggerating these protests as signs of a revolution against their archenemy.

Trump forgot all........

© Al Jazeera