Since earlier this year, protests against the authorities in Iran have been expanding largely. However, they are not large enough to threaten the existence of the regime, despite their diversity, intensity, and wide geographical scope; factors that are set to create more pressures and challenges for the new government. In the last four years, the former US administration was blamed in Iran as inciting, or even executing, certain events. Now, pressure on Iran receded with Joe Biden in the White House, such as halting anti-Tehran activities and funding and mitigating some economic sanctions. As such, the situation in Iran is currently boiling in its own right.
Even the attacks, which seemed to come from Israel, targeted high-level Iranian institutions and activity hubs, such as nuclear and maritime facilities, and had nothing to do with the precarious socioeconomic situation in the country.
The Iranian people’s crises, such as fuel and food shortages, the lack of covid-19 vaccines, and unemployment, are the makings of none other than the Iranian regime, which is knee-deep in external wars. Ebrahim Raisi’s appointment or “election” is but a confirmation of the Iranian leadership’s awareness of the increasing popular rage. However, it has no choice other than collective oppression, as it does not intend to back out from its nuclear project nor withdraw from the four countries it controls militarily. Now, the first challenge of Raisi’s government has manifested itself through strikes that erupted less than a month ago and was organized by workers in petroleum refineries and other petroleum-related sectors across Iranian cities, such as Esfahan, Behbahan, and Tehran, not to mention the strikes staged by truckers. If these strikes were to maintain their impetus in the few coming months, they are likely to cause widespread chaos and clashes in the streets.
The new President’s talent does not lie in his administrative capabilities nor in his local political proposals that may mitigate future pressures; rather, his talent is resorting to power and severe collective rulings. Raisi’s job is no easy feat. Though Outgoing President Hassan Rouhani failed to find solutions to the dire living situation during his term, he was known for his reconciliatory internal political rhetoric. Rouhani was the regime’s “good face” while the Revolutionary Guard was its “evil” one.
What this means is that the regime is headed toward more extremist and less promising and apologetic expressions than the ones Rouhani used to pronounce to quell dissidents. Raisi seems to have chosen his approach for preventing the collapse, which is to face dissidents with the use of force. This cannot be easy in a large, multi-racial, densely populated country, which inevitably makes one wonder how things will go down in the few coming months.
With discontent on the rise, the mere formal change in the Presidency will feed the belief that with Rouhani’s departure, all hope is gone and all roads are closed, given the lack of big solutions, like putting an end to Iran’s nuclear project or costly external military adventures.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.