27 March, 2023
Protesters in Iran have set buildings and cars on fire (photo: YouTube, BBC Persian)

The raise in the price of gasoline and the stricter limit to its consumption have provoked demonstrations, which take place in small towns and in the poor quarters of the big cities

Vladimir Mitev

This article was published on 17 November 2019 on the Bulgarian section of the site ‘The Barricade”. 

Protests against the raise in the price of gasoline and the against the lowering of the allowed subsidised consumption amount of gasoline have erupted in various parts of Iran. On Saturday, 16 November 2019, it was announced that the first deaths have taken place during the protests, in which the security forces clash with the demonstrators. The protesters blocked important boulevards in the big cities, which lead to the announcement that Sunday will not be a school day in Shiraz and Isfahan. BBC Persian has reported that the speed of Internet has fallen in various parts of the country over the weekend. The greatest mobile networks in the country – MCI, Rightel and IranCell have lost their signal around 18 o’clock Iranian time (16:30 Bulgarian/Romanian time) on 16 November 2019.

The protesters set buildings and cars on fire. In one of the videos, which have reached the Western news networks, the demonstrators scream “Death to the dictator”.

Hassan Rouhani’s government has increased the gasoline’s price in order to provide money for subsidies for 18 million families or 60 million citizens of the country. The new measures will provide 2,55 billion dollars annually, has explained the head of the Organisation for Planning and Budget Mohammad Bagher Nobakht. The payments are expected to start in the next ten days.

Iran has big reserves of oil and has recently discovered a new source of oil, which put the country at the third place in the world in terms of black oil deposits. Only in 2019 had the country achieved self-sufficiency in the production and consumption of gasoline, while a lot of expenditures were used to buy fuel imports before. Gasoline was very cheap before the price hike – around 8 euro cents per liter, while afterwards its price reached 12 euro cents per liter. At the same time the monthly limit to consumption per vehicle was reduced from 250 liters to 60 liters. Every bought liter of gasoline over the 60 liters will be paid at the price of 48 euro cents per liter.

These measures were justified by the government’s desire to reduce the fuel smuggling. The raise in the price of gasoline however led automatically to more expensive prices for all the other products. This puts the citizens of the poor towns and quarters in a difficult, if not even unbearable situation. Inflation has reached 40% in this year, while the expectations are that GDP will be reduced by 9%, points out DW.

BBC Persian has published a video, which shows a woman in Najafabad – a city in the Isfahan region, who lies on the ground and screams that when gasoline is expensive, everything is expensive. “Do you see what suffering you brought to the people?”, the woman asks the authorities and demands that they help women like her, who are heads of family. The woman is covered in a white covering, used for dead people, and has put the Quran upon the white covering, while she expresses her protest. The use of the Quran and of the white piece of textile could be interpreted as a sign that she is not against Islam, but she is unhappy that people have been impoverished in the last years.

In the meantime police was placed on the gas stations, so that it could prevent demonstrators’ attacks. Representatives of the Iranian political elite such as the member of parliament Ali Motahari have affirmed that mistakes are made in the way, in which gasoline prices were raised. But Motahari himself is convinced that these mistakes don’t justify the protests, which “make Trump and Netanyahu happy”. Other Iranian politicians and analysts have affirmed that Iran is not Iraq or Lebanon, as they obviously speak about the protest in these two countries, which worry Tehran.

“No one should even imagine that the government has done this, because it has economic problems. On the contrary, even a single rial from the incomes on this measures will not enter the accounts of the financial ministry”, explains Rouhani, against which a part of the resentment is directed. So far it looks like it is clear what the demonstrators oppose, but it is more difficult to determine what they want as a change. Probably they understand that even the government has no power to change a lot in the current situation, in which the economy suffers from severe international sanctions.

The present protests seem more limited that those who erupted in the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. An attempt for parallel between the present demonstrations and the yellow vests was made. In the conditions of severe international pressure against Iran the demonstrators may remain without an ally in the political system, because no one from the political elite will want to shake its tops. This probably one of the explanations why the previous similar protests in the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 didn’t lead to changes in the country. The supreme leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei has supported the price hike on Sunday, adding that the officials must do their job to provide security. After his statement, it is expected that the conservative clerics, who are against the Rouhani government, will not go against Khamenei himself, directing the people’s anger against the government. 

Influential Western Persian-language media avoid to classify the present protests and to run to conclusions. Protests for sure are not only a consequence of the fight against smuggling, which is between 1/10 and 1/5 of the daily gasoline consumption. They are also explained by the international sanctions and the many internal Iranian economic and social problems. Could the Iranian government have other policies? Will the demonstrators direct their anger against the whole political system? For the time being the world has held its breath, while following the videos and informations, which come from Iran.

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