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Monday, March 26, 2018, 09:30 (GMT+7)
Socio-political unrest in Iran: A view from the angle of “Arab Spring”

Recently, protests against Iranian government suddenly broke out. This represents the biggest political challenge to the Tehran administration since 2009. International public opinion  is wondering about the true nature of these Arab Spring- style demonstrations.

The US and Western calculations

According to Middle East analysts, since 2011, Iran has become one of the targets of socio-political unrests dubbed “the Arab Spring” in an attempt to change the regime in this country. This is because Iran has long emerged as an influential entity in the Middle East but holds opposite opinions with the US and the West. For this reason, Iranian administration is seen as a thorn, which needs to be removed. However, the question is why these socio-political unrests did not take place during the decade of hostility and sanctions imposed by the US and the West related to the country’s nuclear program, but only   broke out recently even when the P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal had been reached. Is it possible that all of these moves are in the calculations of the US and the West?

According to international observers, although the nuclear deal was reached, in reality, Iran still faces a number of socio-economic difficulties as a result of the previous sanctions imposed by the US and the West, and scores of frozen assets. Meanwhile, Iranian people hoped for an improved life right after the lifting of  economic sanctions. Making use of this situation, the US and the West tried to incite and blamed the Tehran administration for its weaknesses, corruption and stagnation to create discontents in the country. This was manifested clearly through President Donald Trump’s activeness in generating public opinion and necessary conditions for repeating an “Arab Spring” in the country. Accordingly, on his first trip to Saudi Arabia – Iran’s bitter rival, Trump announced to found the so called “Arab NATO” with the primary goal to counter Iran. Later, on the 5th August 2017, the US Congress passed the H.R.3364 Bill in which Iran was seen as an “invasive country”. Furthermore, in the US new National Security Strategy released on 18th December 2017, Iran was defined as a “country supporting and exporting terrorism”.

A protest in Tehran on 30 December 2017 (Photo: AFP)

In particular, when the protests were  taking place in Iran,  US President Donald Trump used social networking sites to call for Iranian people’s uprising to overthrow the “authoritarian regime” in Tehran. Soon afterwards, on the 9th January 2018, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution, which supported protesters and condemned Tehran’s suppression of the protesters. The Resolution stated that the House “stands with the people of Iran that are engaged in legitimate and peaceful protests against an oppressive, corrupt regime” and condemns the government’s “serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people”. Citing the abuses, the US and some Western countries urged the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning the Tehran’s “human rights violations” and threatened to impose sanctions, including military intervention. All of these moves show that the recent protests and riots against Iranian government were in the U.S and the West’s calculation.

The goals of protests in Iran

An insight into recent events in Iran reveals that the consistent goals of the “Arab Spring” in this Islamic state are to overthrow the present government in Tehran and establish a new one which is in the interest of the US and the West.  Further scrutiny reveals that in the name of removing a “terrorism supporter and exporter”, the US and the West want to destroy an ally of Russia and Syria in the war on terror. Terrorism has become a weapon that some forces in Western countries  seek to use to wage geopolitical wars after the Cold War. Therefore, some Iranian protesters not only called for improving their life but also opposed Tehran’s participation in the war on terror in Syria pleading that it was “costly” and “useless.”

Another important goal of the “Arab Spring” in Iran is to destroy the Russia–Iran–Turkey alliance, which was established in 2017 with a view to rescuing the Syrian crisis.  This axis, with its overarching driving force of defeating the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), changed the political situation not only in the Middle East but also in the whole Eurasian Continent. More importantly, all of the three countries face a common  enemy, namely the US. In  fact, this alliance has directly threatened the interests of the US and the West in the Middle East. They are even competing with the US for influence in the whole  Eurasian Continent. Therefore, the US tried, by all means, to target these three countries. Notably, while the H.R.3364 Bill considered Russia and Iran as “invasive countries”, Turkey has also been a target of sabotage of the US and the West. Probably recognizing this risk, Turkey decided to buy the modernised S-400 air-defence missile systems from Russia for homeland protection. Besides, both Turkey and Iran are facing the risk of an emerging independent Kurdistan state supported by the US. This state  has  many overlapping  territories with  Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

To realize their goals in Iran, US Defense Secretary openly stated that the war against IS was only part of a bigger campaign aimed at Iran. Therefore, although President Donald Trump had claimed to defeat the IS, he still approved the plan to provide a large amount of weapons worth USD 393 million for US partners in Syria. With this decision, the US will still move their weapons to Syria in 2018, including thousands of anti-tank weapons and highly accurate air-defense missiles.

A variant of the “Arab Spring” in Iran and its final outcome

According to analysts, the recent protests in Iran, in essence, were just a variant of the “Arab Spring” that swept many countries in the region with the following  characteristics:

First, their onset was marked by peaceful demonstrations with socio-economic goals such as anti-corruption, request for  price reduction on essential commodities, settlement of unemployment, and so forth.  These slogans were based on the fact that Iran was facing a series of socio-economic difficulties as a result of the sanctions and isolation from the US and the West for a long time.

Second, from those initial demands, protesters then switched to political claims, including overthrowing the current government alleged to have caused the current socio-economic difficulties. In Iran, protesters also demanded that the government withdraw from the war on terror in Syria, and Yemen.

Third, extremists who got training from overseas intelligence agencies infiltrated into the demonstrations,  sniped at civilians, and blamed the government’s law enforcement forces for these shootings in order to call for outside intervention. This is a typical  scenario which  resembles those in the “Arab Spring” in Greece, Libya, Syria and the “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine. These are the places which witnessed direct intervention of  Western intelligence agencies.

However, this scenario did not  unfold according to plans of Iran’s hostile forces. Analysts held that though the protests were politically influenced and occurred vigorously, the protesters, including the  opposition forces,  did not want their country to  plunge into a tragic plight like Yemen, Libya, Syria,  and so on. On the other hand, the Western countries were divided after US decision to withdraw from the nuclear  deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 group. For this reason, the US  failed to garner sufficient support when it called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on the turmoil in Iran on 5th January 2018.

Moreover, Iranian government has learnt valuable lessons in dealing with the protests from the failures of the Arab Spring-hit countries, including  Tunisia, Greece and Libya, and Ukraine in the Revolution of Dignity. Accordingly, the Tehran administration stated that Iranian people could go on strike to express their political opinion and legitimate claims. At the same time, it resolutely suppressed the rioters and promoted the pro-government meetings. These measures  helped the government of President Hassan Rouhani defeat the plot to inspire an  “Arab Spring” in Iran. To date the situation has basically been stabilised.

However, according to observers, though the Arab Spring-styled demonstrations in Iran were controlled, they signaled coming difficulties for this country. International public opinion holds that Iranian people and government should strengthen solidarity, seek a common voice and strive to overcome the difficulties and maintain the peaceful and stable environment for the country’s development. In particular, Iran should avoid outside intervention, or conflict scenarios in Syria, Libya, etc., which may repeat  in  this Muslim country and throw the entire Middle East into chaos.

Ngo Quyen

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