Iran Protests Rock The Gulf

Last month, the Iranian government had announced that it was rationing petrol to spare additional money for helping the poorest of its’ citizens. This sudden announcement by the government of the oil-rich nation resulted in substantial increase in the oil prices and caused protests by the people in a way that it quickly engulfed many cities and took the shape of a political unrest posing severe challenge to the regime’s stability.

Iranian authorities blamed these unrests on the exiled opposition groups and its foreign enemies and responded decisively. They also imposed a near total shutdown of Internet to prevent the anti-government demonstrations from spreading further. According to the Chief Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the aim of Iran’s enemies through these unrests was to endanger the existence of the Islamic Republic.

Although Iran has not released any official figures on the people killed in these unrests, Amnesty International has claimed that it has documented the deaths of at least 208 people in the protests. Reportedly, the period of the current unrest in Iran also saw about 2,000 people being injured and about 7,000 detained by the Iranian security forces.

Without giving any figure, the Iranian media has acknowledged killing of some of the protesters by the security forces, terming them as ‘armed terrorists’ while praising the tactics of the security forces for crushing the unrest. Also, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence has said that at least eight people linked to the CIA were arrested during these unrests. After about two weeks of violent clashes, in a televised speech this week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for the release of such unarmed or innocent people who may have been arrested.

The Iranian unrest has happened at a time when Iran is under severe sanctions by the United States, which withdrew last year from the Nuclear Deal agreed by Iran and the six world powers. Due to the US sanctions, Iran is facing severe restrictions in exporting its oil and gas and is effectively devoid of infusing the petro-dollars in its oil-based economy. In this scenario sanctions are now touching the daily lives of the Iranian people, making them vulnerable to economic grievances. Due to the same reason, it is also coming handy for the Iranian regime to put the entire blame of the economic hardships of the Iranian people on its foreign adversaries.

Although triggered by the oil-price rise, the current protests in Iran are the repercussions of the longstanding stand-off between Iran and the United States. Iran has maintained that it is ready to enter into negotiations to end the current crisis if the US first lifts the sanctions. The US however, insists that it will lift sanctions only if Iran scales back its nuclear programme, ends its missile programme and shows restraints in its regional activism. This situation has created a deadlock between Iran and the US in a way that is difficult to resolve and is potentially detrimental to the peace and stability of the Persian Gulf region.

However, a destabilised Iran is not in the interest of anybody. It is feared that the potential suppression of protesters in the Iranian provinces such as Khuzestan, Sistan and Baluchistan and Kurdistan, which are populated by the ethnic minorities, could lead to more violence. It is also feared that in order to showcase its strength, the Iranian clerical regime may use unprecedented repressive powers to crackdown such protests in order to send messages to its internal and external adversaries.

A disturbed Iran or related turmoil in the Gulf region is also not in India’s interests. India has good relations with the Gulf countries including Iran, which has traditionally been its prominent oil exporter. New Delhi is also developing the Chabahar port in Iran and further disturbances in the region could be counterproductive for such investments.

 

Script: Dr. Asif Shuja, Strategic Analyst On Iran