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The best way to respond to Iran protests

11 3 25

Iran’s deadly wave of protests has taken the government and security forces by surprise.

What started off in the holy city of Mashhad as demonstrations over unpaid wages and inflation quickly spread throughout the country, widening to include grievances about government mismanagement, corruption and Tehran’s involvement in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Unlike the mainly urban demonstrations that followed the contested 2009 election, these protests have spread to Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Rasht and Qazvin – all rural and relatively poorer cities.

The national groundswell means that the government must take these demonstrations seriously. Here are five points for policymakers to consider:

Economics 101

The overarching theme of these protests seems to be Iran’s perpetually mismanaged economy. Inflation, unemployment, corruption and years of sanctions have led to a shadow financial system that often benefits elites and leaves the middle class and poor further behind every year. President Hassan Rouhani’s first campaign for the presidency in 2013 was framed in terms of getting a nuclear deal done and unshackling Iran’s economy from years of sanctions. Yet while sanctions certainly exacerbated long-standing structural problems of a mostly state-run economy, they were not the underlying cause of Iran’s woes.

Unemployment today in Iran stands at 12 percent (youth unemployment is above 20 percent). Inflation since the 1979 revolution has fluctuated between 17 percent during the 1980s to a peak of 49 percent percent during the 1990s. In the early 2000s, under the stewardship of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, it was tamed at around 15 percent but then skyrocketed again under firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to 30 percent – the latter occurring at a time when oil........

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