How this must have unsettled Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani!
The demonstrations that raged across the country became a revolt of the provinces. That Iran’s rebellion in 1978 began in those provinces can’t have escaped their notice.
This protest was fueled by workers and peasants fed up with the Islamic Republic’s corruption, not the usual intelligentsia and university students calling for more freedom.
The very people who were viewed as key to the regime’s hold on power and were supposed to be a reliable constituency seemed to change forever, last December.
Iranian leadership can dismiss students as pampered members of the middle class, but the laborers and the religiously devout were the backbone of the state.
While Western press presents Iran’s hard-liners as reactionaries who do not understand the obstacles they are facing, the conservatives appreciated that the regime had to reconstitute its power in the absence of its charismatic founder. Still, they protected themselves from democratic infiltrations. They were also concerned with the impact of Western culture on a youthful population who desired all things American.
The conservatives offered the population social justice instead of political rights. The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was based on the idea that Iran’s wealth had to find its way to the poor. However, the regime’s pursuit of nuclear capacity and its imperial aggressions provoked sanctions, and made it a place that European mercantilists were hesitant to invest in. Iran became financially depleted.
With the Green Revolution in the summer of 2009, a coalition of disgruntled youth and the urban middle class took to the streets. The regime restored order with brutal force. The Green revolt showed the middle class that the Right had no answers to their problems. However, the lower classes remained quiet during that summer.
Hassan Rouhani became the regime’s hope of rejuvenating the economy by attracting foreign investment. The West assured themselves that the Islamic Republic had elected a moderate. Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, secured the nuclear deal and got rid of sanctions. International commerce once more found its way to Tehran.
Still, the problems that have plagued Iran only worsened under Rouhani. The rebellion of 2017 should not have been a shock to government, but the regime did not grasp that its remaining base of support was crumbling. The lower classes were known for their religious devotion. They were the families who attended Friday prayer services. Yet their protest slogans expressed a desire to overthrow the state, and the demonstrations broke out in more than 80 cities.
The Iranian uprisings seemed to surprise Washington as well. Its initial reaction was commendable. The administration denounced the regime and a backed the Iranian people. If Trump supports the Iranian people in their effort to overthrow an oppressive regime, his legacy would be that of a president who went a long way toward stabilizing the Middle East.