Chants heard in ongoing demonstrations across Iran are evidence Iranians hold long-standing political grievances against the regime, according to experts.
Protestors call for “Death to the dictator,” a sign of rising anger against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and “No Gaza. No Lebanon, I give my life for Iran,” in reference to Tehran’s support for Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Though Tehran’s implementation of petrol rationing - which raised pump prices by at least 50 percent on Friday - sparked the demonstrations, expert on Iran Behnam Ben Taleblu said the chants show oil is not the focus.
“Though it was an economic match that lit the whole thing on fire, the chants prove there are political grievances at the heart of the protests,” said Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The chants “Death to the dictator” and “No Gaza. No Lebanon, I give my life for Iran,” have been used in earlier protests like the 2009 and 2017 demonstrations.
Expert Alireza Nader said Iranians are speaking out because they are deeply dissatisfied with the regime’s foreign policies.
“One of the biggest grievances Iranians are expressing is the regime’s vast financial and material support for groups like Hezbollah and Hamas which act in accordance with regime interests and against the interests of the Iranian people,” said Nader, CEO of New Iran, a Washington-based nonpartisan advocacy organization.
Iran provides significant financial support to its proxies in the region. Lebanese Hezbollah receives some $700 million a year from Iran, according to a US estimate cited by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
US Ambassador Nathan Sales, a coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, has said that Iran gives up to $100 million annually to “Palestinian terrorist groups.”
Iranian demonstrators are criticizing Tehran’s outside funding, saying it is taking money out of their pockets. One common chant is “Our money is lost, it has been spent on Palestine,” pointing to Iran’s oil wealth being funneled away from its people and towards Hamas.
“Iranians go without while the regime pursues the ‘liberation’ of Palestine,” said Nader.
Iran, which is home to the world’s fourth largest crude oil reserves, has taken a hit economically since the Trump administration imposed its “maximum pressure” campaign, which has increased sanctions on Tehran since it left the Obama-era nuclear deal in 2018.
US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Al Arabiya that the Trump administration’s oil sanctions on Iran have led to “a complete collapse of Iran’s oil sector.”
By the end of the 2019-20 financial year, Iran’s economy is expected to have contracted 10 percent from its size two years earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
With protests taking place in over 37 cities across the country, expert Michael Doran said they are a result of built-up resentment towards the Iranian regime, which has not been expressed in this scope for almost a decade.
“It’s amazing to see. We haven’t seen anything like this since 2009,” said Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, referencing protests that erupted after the re-election of hardliner incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“What’s sad of course is that a decade after, Iranians still chant the same things since their demands have not been met,” said Taleblu.