Iranian protesters gather around a burning motorcycle during a demonstration in the city of Isfahan against increased petrol prices Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

Iran unrest: Why protests against the regime always end the same way

Is the mounting economic stress pressured on regime actually directed at the US?

Protests broke out across Iran last Friday, sparked by a sudden move to raise fuel prices, drawing a fierce crackdown by security forces, marking some of the worst violence in the country in years, with many Iranians being killed in the process. The protests have flared in many of the same areas that experienced unrest two years ago when demonstrators protested a similar proposal to slash state subsidies. Then, as now, lower-income Iranians rose up against a system that they said had failed them economically. However, this time the protests are not simply caused by the hike in fuel prices, but the buildup of economic strain that has been imposed on the working class especially through the large-scale US sanctions on the nation. The fuel price reform, which effectively raised the price of gasoline and diesel for most drivers from about 8 cents a liter to about 25 cents a liter, is meant to save the government a few hundred million dollars over the course of a year, as well as husbanding increasingly scarce supplies of motor fuel, which can be exported for greater earnings than essentially giving it away domestically. The government hoped that its plan to redistribute most of the revenue from the price hike back to low-income families would blunt the pain of the measure, but delays in getting cash back into people’s hands, and the immediate consequences left the protests still simmering through Tuesday. The fact that Iran would risk sparking such widespread anger for minimal economic gain highlights the dire condition of the Iranian economy, hammered by U.S. sanctions in its inability to export practically any oil, one of the main sources of revenue for the government. “They did the reform because they are broke,” said Alireza Nader, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “People can’t afford a 300 per cent increase in gas prices, but the regime didn’t have any other choice.” Although it is clear that the protesters are directing their anger at the Iranian regime, it’s clear that they are aware that a large factor in the situation is the US sanctions, which could be lightly holding back the protests from a full-scale revolution.

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