The latest uprising is occurring in Iran where about 40% of the young are unemployed and staple products like eggs have gone up 40%, leading to demonstrations in December 2017. They began in Mashhad to protest recent price increases and spread to tens of thousands in multiple cities. The economic grievances expanded to calls against corruption and to oust Ayatollah Ali Khomeini and cries of “Death to Rouhani.” Crowds chanted “Forget Palestine” to focus on Iranian economic problems, as well as “Death or Freedom.” They also chanted, “Mullahs have some shame, leave the country alone.” President Hassan Rouhani responded that Iranians have the right to protest but not to do violence. The government shut down Instagram and the messaging app Telegraph. Hundreds were arrested and over a dozen people were killed as they tried to take over police stations and military bases. These are the biggest demonstrations since the 2009 protests over corruption in the presidential election. A difference is that they don’t have known leaders like presidential candidates who were spokesmen in 2009.
Since Rouhani became president in 2013, a “lifestyle movement” is underway with women without headscafs, university students wearing bright colors, street musicians and concerts (conservative clerics say music is haram), comedians (before joking in public was suspect), and billboards not just for political leaders but celebrities. This opening is similar to what happened in the “Iranian Spring” under moderate president Mohammad Khatami, 1997 to 2005. Political expression is the red line that still can’t be crossed, although campaigns mushroom for initiatives to save stray cats and dogs or improve the quality of Iranian cars.
Thomas Erdbrink, “Cautiously, Iranians Reclaim Public Spaces and Liberties Long Suppressed,” New York Times, October 5, 2015.
Iran jailed cartoonist Alena Farghadani, age 28, for criticizing parliament members for restricting access to contraception and attempting to pass a bill criminalizing voluntary sterilization. She drew legislators as cows, monkeys and other animals. She also created an exhibition of people killed in the 2009 protests against voting fraud in the presidential election. The court sentenced her to 12 years in prison for “insulting members of parliament through paintings” and insulting her prison interrogators, etc. Also in 2015, activist Atena Daemi, age 27, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for her postings on Facebook and Twitter advocating an end to the death penalty and human rights violations.