The Ira­nian peo­ple’s pa­tience runs out

Has­san Rouhani promised to de­liver pros­per­ity. He has let his peo­ple down

The National - News - - OPINION -

When Has­san Rouhani won re-elec­tion to Iran’s pres­i­dency in May, or­di­nary peo­ple spilled into the streets to cel­e­brate. On Thurs­day, peo­ple poured into the streets of Mash­had, the coun­try’s sec­ond largest city, to com­mis­er­ate and protest. By the fol­low­ing day, mul­ti­ple cities in Iran were rocked by protests, which con­tinue de­spite de­ten­tions and the use of dis­pro­por­tion­ate force by the regime. Mr Rouhani had pledged to im­prove the lot of his peo­ple when he ran for the pres­i­dency of Iran. But his pri­or­i­ties changed as soon as he en­tered of­fice and the prom­ises to bring pros­per­ity to or­di­nary peo­ple be­came a ca­su­alty of the grand fan­tasy that Iran’s tiny rul­ing elite has har­boured for nearly four decades: im­pe­rial dom­i­na­tion of the re­gion.

The placid im­age of the “mod­er­ate” that Mr Rouhani cul­ti­vated abroad is im­pos­si­ble to rec­on­cile with the re­al­ity of his rule. Lest we for­get, it is un­der Mr Rouhani’s pres­i­dency that Iran dou­bled down on its sup­port for the As­sad regime in Syria; desta­bilised Ye­men by help­ing Houthi mili­tias, whom it con­tin­ues to arm and fi­nance, try­ing to over­throw the coun­try’s gov­ern­ment; in­ten­si­fied its back­ing for Shi­ite mili­tias in Iraq; and en­cour­aged its Hizbol­lah clients in Le­banon to plunge that frag­ile coun­try into a fresh phase of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity.

As their gov­ern­ment went about fi­nanc­ing ter­ror abroad, Ira­ni­ans at home were feel­ing the pinch. Youth un­em­ploy­ment in the coun­try un­der Mr Rouhani is at 40 per cent. Food prices have risen, the cost of eggs alone go­ing up by more than 40 per cent. Soar­ing in­fla­tion and de­pre­ci­at­ing cur­rency have dealt a pow­er­ful blow to peo­ple’s con­fi­dence. Iran’s ve­nal rul­ing class has not only im­mu­nised it­self from the hard­ship en­dured by most peo­ple – it has also grown richer. The in­ter­na­tional trad­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties cre­ated by the nu­clear deal that Tehran signed with global pow­ers have so far ben­e­fited only a small class of Ira­ni­ans.

It is hardly sur­pris­ing that the pa­tience of Ira­ni­ans, who have wit­nessed their gov­ern­ment prop­ping up un­savoury regimes abroad while re­press­ing peo­ple at home, has fi­nally snapped. As the US state depart­ment ob­served over the week­end, Iran’s rulers have trans­formed a wealthy coun­try into “an eco­nom­i­cally de­pleted rogue state whose chief ex­ports are vi­o­lence, blood­shed, and chaos”. Yet these protests, as Dr An­war Gar­gash, the UAE’s Min­is­ter of State for For­eign Af­fairs, tweeted, also present an op­por­tu­nity for the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment to con­duct a “ra­tio­nal re­view, to put their in­ter­nal in­ter­ests ahead of Tehran’s quests in the Arab re­gion”. Given Iran’s his­tory, how­ever, this may not be likely. Mr Rouhani, who cast him­self as the great mod­er­ate hope of Iran, has re­vealed him­self to be no dif­fer­ent from the rad­i­cals.

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