Protests In Iran Risk Spreading As Ukraine War Triggers Global Food Crisis
After a break in late March, small protests have broken out all over Iran over wages and pensions. A higher cost of living caused by the war in Ukraine may be the final straw for exasperated Iranians.
In Iran, workers and pensioners have resumed protests over dismal wages and work conditions, after a two-week lull for the Persian new year holidays. Amid dire conditions for many Iranians in an economy that has become perennially dysfunctional, one economist has warned there could be another explosion of public rage against the Islamic Republic within months.
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Iranians have reasons enough to be angry: unemployment, inflation, unpaid or meager wages (when paid) that barely meet bread-and-butter costs, and a regime that persists with a nuclear program that has earned the country little more than sanctions. And now, the regime's sinister ally, Russia, is provoking a spike in food prices after invading Ukraine.
The economist Ibrahim Razzaqi told the Sharq newspaper last week that "unfortunately, everyday society is becoming less tolerant of all its problems," adding that he expected a "popular outburst over critical living conditions" caused by "the wrong policies pursued by governments to this day."
Added to that now is the risk that, like elsewhere, a food crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine could make matters worse.
Rising tensions in Iran
Razzaqi said a "tight" correlation was emerging between harsh economic conditions and criminal activities including, he said, theft, prostitution, fraud and embezzlement, while the government of President Ebrahim Raisi had reached an "economic dead-end."
He cited recent comments by Raisi who had asked 10 million Iranians living under the poverty line to trust his government, and asked, "What if those 10 million people will not trust him nor tolerate these conditions? What will you tell them?"
The Work and Welfare minister, Hojjatollah Abdolmaleki, told ISNA news agency on April 6 that 14 million Iranians did not have "proper jobs" and many did not not earn enough to meet basic costs. Planning was needed, he said, to "build the right culture" for employment.
Protesters gather in Pardis, Iran.
Economic protests around the country
Oblivious to empty ministerial words, truckers were the first group of discontented workers to stage a two-day nationwide strike on April 3 and 4. On April 4, farmers in the Isfahan province protested outside the judiciary headquarters in the city of Isfahan. They blame the provincial government, including the judiciary, for policies that have dried the Zayanderud river, which flows, or flowed, through the city.
Employees of the Rasht provincial government in northern Iran also gathered outside its offices on April 5 to protest problems including reduced benefits and precarious contracts. The governor was in the building but did not come out.
Pensioners from the telecommunication sector began gathering from April 5 in several cities, including Tehran, Isfahan, Kermanshah and Zanjan. Their complaints include late pension payments. Bojnurd municipal employees closed a city street on April 6 over unpaid wages and work conditions. In Sisakht in south-central Iran, municipal workers have complained they haven't been paid for the 13-month period up to late March 2022.
A group of landowners separately gathered before the country's top administrative court in Tehran on April 6 in protest of being threatened with the expropriation of their plots, reportedly earmarked for the expansion of the Pardis housing estate outside the capital.
In the province of Lorestan, food and feed sector employees protested over precarious contracts, with some clashes reported with senior staff of Kesht o Sanaat Lorestan, the firm's regional brand. The firm is reported to have changed conditions for local workers, against the firm's general norms, and told them to accept them or resign.
Petrochemical sector workers in the district of Ilam were also protesting against unpaid new year bonuses.A lot of small protests are occurring in a short period of time. Even before the new year, the Raisi government had no apparent plans to safeguard wages or purchasing power in an inflationary context. Meanwhile, Iranians were hoping in vain that a nuclear accord with the West would have come through by now to curb pressures on Iran's currency and trade.
Similar to economic protests in other countries like Sri Lanka, Peru and North Africa, will the unforeseen factor of rising food prices due to the war in Ukraine also prove to be the last straw for an exasperated Iranian population?