When the Iranian protests broke out last Thursday, I immediately reached out to friends, family, and organizers of the Green Movement, which erupted after the 2009 stolen elections, to find out what was going on. But almost everyone I spoke to gave me the same answer: We don’t know. We haven’t been able to piece it together yet. We are all confused.
But one person had quickly managed to put together the Persian puzzle: Donald Trump.
Although it took him days to figure out what was going on in Charlottesville, Iran was a piece of cake for America’s most unpresidential president. Since then, he has shot off half a dozen or so tweets purporting to support the protesters. In reality, however, the tweets seem more aimed at fanning the flames than aiding the demonstrators.
There is no evidence that the protesters in Iran are taking their cues from Trump—or even paying attention to him. Unlike the 2009 protests, when some of the demonstrators called on Barack Obama to speak out against the Iranian government’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, no chants have been heard in Iran calling on Trump to do or say anything at all. Nor has any evidence emerged to substantiate the accusation that the protests were orchestrated from abroad.
Indeed, in the eyes of most Iranians, Trump has shown nothing but animosity toward the Iranian people since he took office. He imposed a Muslim ban on the Iranian people (even though no Iranian national has been involved in any lethal act of terrorism on US soil), while unreservedly hugging Iran’s regional rival and one of the main sources of Salafi terrorism, Saudi Arabia. He has continuously opposed and undermined the nuclear deal, which the Iranian people strongly support. He even blamed Iran instead of ISIS when that group conducted a terrorist attack in Iran that left 17 people dead.
But listened to or not, Trump has nevertheless contributed to the explosive mix of factors that gave birth to the Iranian protests.
Mindful of the ongoing political repression in Iran, the widespread discontent with lack of political and social freedoms, and the deep frustration and anger over corruption, economic mismanagement, and inequality, the question that analysts wrestle with is: Why now? Clearly there have been decades of pent-up anger. But that still doesn’t explain why emotions boiled over now, and not a year ago.
The answer appears to lie in a few factors that have all come to a head in the past few weeks. Trump has figured prominently in the first factor: the economic dividends of the nuclear deal.