"In Iran, a revolution threatens the regime"

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In an interview with the "World", Stéphane Dudoignon, a CNRS researcher, analyzes what he calls "revolution".

In Iran, thirteen people have been killed since the protests began, on December 28, 2017. The judiciary, conservative leaders and some reformers, allied with President Hassan Rohani, demanded unrelenting repression. But the state still treats with caution this unprecedented movement, the most important that the country has known since the one that followed the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2009. Stéphane Dudoignon, researcher at the CNRS, analyzes a situation which he describes as "Revolution".

How to define the current events in Iran?

Like a revolution! This is how the protesters called their movement calling it, thanks to a play on words, at the same time "revolution of the eggs" and "revolution with the con".

It has not been emphasized enough that for years, especially for the last two to three years, Iran has been living under a regime of quasi-permanent demonstrations motivated by economic difficulties or ecological disasters linked to the lack of water. The phenomenon even gave rise to very interesting documentaries. But often these movements are local and occur in cities bordering the desert.

This time, it has nothing to do with it. There are about 40 cities affected and there are radical slogans against the regime, with insults including pornographic against dignitaries of the regime. And as these protests were provoked by measures reducing social assistance to some retirees but also by announcements of increasing the price of gasoline and eggs, demonstrators have been talking since Sunday about an "egg revolution".

What are the most important slogans?

For example, in Qom, the city that was the cradle of the Islamic Revolution almost forty years ago, slogans were heard in favor of the monarchy, particularly in favor of Reza Shah Pahlavi, who ruled the country between 1925 and 1941. But this one was a kind of Iranian Atatürk, deeply antireligious. It was he who had forbidden the wearing of the veil.

Such slogans are an absolute novelty. They show not only a rejection of the Islamic Republic but also of the Islamic religion and even of Islam in general. In the same way, the demonstrators dare to attack official buildings. A sub-prefecture was thus occupied for several hours. That too is new.

Can we compare the current movement to the 2009 protests against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

In part only. The current rallies, because they are mostly gatherings and not demonstrations, are more hostile to the regime than in 2009. In addition, at the time, the protesters were mostly students and the urban bourgeoisie. This year, it is the popular neighborhoods of Tehran, young rabid as some say, who took to the streets. That is to say the social base of the regime. We can therefore speak of ideological and sociological erosion of the Islamic Republic.

Is the Islamic Republic in danger?

Without a doubt. Some statements by regime officials seem to indicate that fear may be changing sides. In 2009, the protests were mostly held in Tehran. They were relatively easy to suppress. Here, given the simultaneity of gatherings in forty cities and the speed with which information circulates on social networks, the repression is much more difficult.

How do the leaders react?

One feels a real perplexity. There are obviously important divisions between them. The Conservatives are taking advantage of the situation to put President Hassan Rohani in question but they clearly do not manage to control a movement that exceeds them.

Is there a force that structures the movement?

No. It's a revolution without a leader. Since Saturday, the entire regime incriminates a fifth column. Some leaders even accused the first two victims of the movement of being agents from abroad. But it shows above all that power is completely out of date. His ability to listen and react seems very weak.

Admittedly, the announced price increases were canceled but President Rohani, while pretending to understand the protesters, nevertheless suggested that they may have been manipulated from outside. Only a part of the press and some elected deputies of the regions affected by this movement spoke out in favor of the freedom to demonstrate. On the other hand, security officials and parliamentary leaders held anti-Western speeches.

Personally, what struck me was the role played by the Kermanshah earthquake, which killed about 500 people in mid-November 2017. It mobilized all Kurds Iran and even beyond. There was an awareness against the authorities accused of negligence but also thefts. The earthquake gave people a sense of common destiny and heightened hostility to power.

Western sanctions, partially lifted, have played a role in this movement?

Clearly, the partial abolition of Western sanctions after the nuclear deal in 2015 has not allowed the economy to restart. President Rohani, who has been betting on this, has lost much of his credibility because he is no longer able to pursue a policy in favor of the most modest and he has little more to offer. A few days ago, Iranian television highlighted the delivery by France of two regional aircraft, ATR. I doubt that this is enough to calm the demonstrators.

In addition, President Rohani owed some of his popularity to the fact that he had managed to reduce the price increase below 10% when it had reached 40%, but inflation is now back.

But I insist: the current rejection goes beyond the person of the president and concerns the whole of the Islamic Republic.


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