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Will Iranian protests cause lasting change?

International | Some experts say major dissent will have minimal effect
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 1/02/18, 03:35 pm

Iranian security forces killed nine protesters Monday night, bringing the death toll from recent unrest to at least 21. The rallies began Thursday over the country’s weak economy and rising food prices. But experts remain uncertain whether the demonstrations—Iran’s biggest since 2009—will bring lasting change.

Protesters in the capital city of Tehran and elsewhere have called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down amid overall criticism of the country’s Islamic leadership. Authorities have arrested more than 400 protesters, and the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court warned they could face the death penalty.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier said, “People have the right to criticize,” but he vowed to crack down on those who instigated violence and destroyed public property. The Iranian government also blocked access to Instagram and the Telegram messaging app, which authorities said helped spread information on the protests.

The economy has improved under Rouhani, who reached a deal with world powers that lifted some sanctions against Iran in January 2016. But unemployment remains high, especially among youth; living costs have risen; and the country recently experienced a spike in food prices. The latest unrest follows months of smaller-scale protests over unpaid wages and the collapse of unauthorized lending companies.

“There is a crisis of expectations in Iran,” Tamer Badawi, a research fellow at the Turkey-based Al-Sharq Forum told Reuters. “It is a deep sense of economic frustration.”

Video footage from central Tehran showed people shouting, “Down with the dictator,” and others in Khorramabad in western Iran yelled, “Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!”

The ongoing demonstrations are the worst since 2009, when protests followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection as president. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs noted the protests once again show that “the real threat to the stability of the religious regime in Iran is the Iranian people, who have already proven in the past that they can topple a regime that abandons and ignores their needs.”

In his first comment since the crisis began, Khamenei accused “enemies of Iran” of using various means, including money, politics, and intelligence, to stir problems in the country. The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday expressed solidarity with Iran and criticized the United States and Israel for destabilizing the region after they voiced support for the protesters.

But as the protests turn from economic to political and continue without any defined leadership, analysts question whether they will have a significant lasting effect.

“The system prefers political protests over economic because they’re easier to control,” Tehran-based political analyst Mojtaba Mousavi told Agence France-Presse. “People protesting economic issues will give up when it turns political because unrest can only worsen the economic situation of the country.”

Associated Press/Photo by John Bompengo Associated Press/Photo by John Bompengo A protest Sunday in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Congo protests turn deadly

Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least seven people during protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down, the United Nations reported on Sunday. Florence Marchal, UN spokeswoman in Congo, confirmed the casualties and said the UN documented more than 120 arrests across the country. Leonie Kandolo, spokeswoman for one of the groups that organized the protests, placed the death toll at more than 10 people.

Catholic churches and activists called for peaceful protests Sunday, one year after the Church led the signing of a peace accord that set a new election timeframe. Kabila’s mandate ended in December 2016, and he agreed to set an election date by the end of 2017. He is barred from seeking another term but can remain in power until the next election is held. More than 160 churches responded to the call for protests. The Congolese government refused to issue permits for the demonstrations and shut down internet and text messaging services ahead of the demonstrations. The UN human rights office in Congo denounced “the violent suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms by security forces.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Manu Brabo Associated Press/Photo by Manu Brabo Libyan children from Tawergha at a camp for displaced people near Tripoli in November 2013

Displaced Libyan families to return home

Libyan families displaced from the town of Tawergha by militias following the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 will return home in February, according to the UN-backed government. The move, if implemented, could herald a step toward reconciliation in the faction-split country. Rebels used the town as a base for attacks against the western city of Misrata during the 2011 uprising. The decision followed a reconciliatory deal between representatives of Tawergha and Misrata who fought on opposing sides during the unrest. Tawergha’s estimated 40,000 residents have since lived in camps and makeshift houses across the country and battled abuse and arbitrary arrests. Prime Minister Fayez Serraj confirmed the decision in a statement and said the government would compensate the relatives of those who were killed, detained, or lost their homes in the conflict. —O.O.

China dishes out harshest sentence to activist

China ordered eight years’ imprisonment for a prominent rights activist in the harshest sentence yet since the country began its crackdown on activism. Wu Gan, also known by his online name “Super Vulgar Butcher,” received the sentence after authorities charged him with subverting state power. The blogger often criticized, both online and in street protests, the government’s abuse of power. He already spent more than two years in pretrial detention. Wu’s sentence is the longest since China intensified its attack against rights activists and lawyers in 2015. In a separate case last week, rights lawyer Xie Yang escaped criminal punishment on subversion charges after he admitted to the offense. The U.S. and German embassies in a joint statement called for both men’s release. —O.O.

Zimbabwe appoints former military commander as VP

New Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed a former commander who led a military takeover last month as one of the country’s two vice presidents. The state-run Herald newspaper confirmed Gen. Constantino Chiwenga’s appointment along with former state security minister Kembo Mohadi as second vice president. In November, the military staged a takeover that saw Robert Mugabe eventually step down as president after 37 years in power. Mnangagwa over the weekend appointed Chiwenga and Mohadi as vice presidents and deputies of the ruling ZANU-PF party. The move heightened concerns over the president’s ties with the military. Last month, Mnangagwa appointed several military officials to the country’s 22-member Cabinet. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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