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Op-Ed: Iranians deserve to live in a welfare stateAfter the anti-government protests in Iran, Manish Rai explains that the regime in Tehran has to reform itself if it wants to remain in power. Rai states that the Iranian people are fed up with their government diverting their country’s revenue to external operations and preventing their domestic situation from improving.
The recent protests in Iran rang a warning bell for the ruling theocracy in Tehran. What started in Iran's holy and second largest city of Mashhad over rising inflation, quickly transformed into widespread, unexpected protests against the current regime of Ayatollah Khamenei in towns and cities across the country.
While massive protests against the current status quo were reported in Tehran and other some major cities, these protests touched a vast panoply of cities and towns, where people protested against rising living expenses and a corrupt government. Protesters were so furious that even they attacked police stations, government offices, military installations and seminaries, calling for the resignation of the supreme leader and the dismantling of the Islamic Republic.
But what caused that much discontent among the masses doesn’t need to be given a deep thought. It’s surely the economy at the heart of grievances that have brought the people's dissatisfactions with the status quo to a boiling point. Economic mismanagement and deep-rooted corruption have given rise to a high rate of unemployment, inflation and widening socioeconomic inequalities. The government's insensitivity to these grievances have not only affected the working class, but they have also increasingly impacted the lower sections of the urban middle class.
Iranians are now finding it harder with every passing day to meet their basic requirements. Ironically, Iran is the second biggest producer of petroleum products in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Hence this kind of pathetic economic hardships is totally unacceptable in such an oil-rich country. So, a very vital question arises that where is the oil money going? Last December, President Rouhani publicized some details of the 2018 budget, revealing the astronomical portion of state funds going to religious and military entities while cuts to local subsidies.
In addition to this, Iran spends fortunes on its overseas overt and covert operations. Iran spends more than $12 billion annually on its military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Tehran is also providing billions of dollars in the form of subsidies, oil subsidies, credit lines, military assistance and exports to Syria, whose economy has been shattered by the war. Moreover, Iran also provides enormous amounts of assistance to a number of groups across the Middle East like- Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Houthi rebels in Yemen, Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Iraq and Shia political groups in Bahrain. All of this is a heavy burden for a country that is also bearing the sanctions and continues to struggle with much higher levels of unemployment and inflation. The people of Iran have every reason to be outraged.
Unfortunately, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian regime sought to export its ideology abroad. Therefore, it spends Iran’s wealth on promoting and creating the groups that can propagate Iranian revolutionary ideology. The Islamic Republic has been a self-declared defender and sponsor of Shia cause. To fulfill this desire of being a mascot to Shia cause globally, the regime always gave priority to its armed forces and weapon development projects and not to the welfare of the ordinary Iranian which bought this current regime to power.
Since the time of Iranian revolution that overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi and up until now, Iranians have only got income disparity, unemployment, inflation and weak currency from there rulers. These are the fruits of the revolution that were delivered to the masses. Now it’s high time that Iranians decide whether Iran is first for Iranians or for the Shia cause. Now the general public opinion in Iran totally rejects state sponsorship of the Shia cause, which was even clearly illustrated in recent protests when protestors raised slogans like- “Forget about Syria, think about us.”
Surely the protests seem to have died down, but if Iranian leaders fail to recognize that the status quo can’t be continued and major reforms are unavoidable, they are only buying time until the next uprising, which could lead to greater instability. Until the grass root issues affecting the lives of common Iranians are not sorted out, there can’t be any long-term stability.
People are in no mood to accept wasteful spending of national wealth on any foreign adventures of the regime. The top leadership of the country now has to dedicate the country’s wealth to the welfare of the citizens or otherwise eventually get itself overthrown. The ruling class of clerics also has to realize that the government is there to serve the country and its people, not the other way around- that a country should serve ambitions of the government. President Rouhani, who is considered a moderate in the current set up, has to urgently push for reforms that he promised and has to fix the economy that is at the core or the people’s discontent.
Manish Rai is a geo-political analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geo-political news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in House of Commons, British Parliament.
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