On December 28, anti-government protests broke out in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, and in subsequent days spread nationwide, escalating confrontations, some of them violent, between protesters and regime forces that have resulted, so far, in hundreds of arrests and over 20 deaths.
The impetus behind the protests is said to be economic discontent brought about by years of sanctions, government mismanagement, corruption, and the recently announced rise in the prices of fuel, eggs, and poultry, though, as longtime Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn argues, it could be that clerical hard-liners and conservatives “initiated or tolerated the protests as a way of undermining President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a political moderate, who was re-elected by a landslide last year.”
Trump, as is his habit, took to Twitter and issued a characteristically juvenile taunt: “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”
The State Department also issued a statement condemning Iran’s leaders for turning the country “into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos.”
So far, anyway, the Trump administration’s reaction to the unfolding anti-government protests, now heading into their second week, has been marked by the usual hypocrisies, particularly in its expressions of selective outrage over human-rights violations on the part of the Iranian government. It evinces no such outrage when human-rights abuses are perpetuated by nominal US regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Bahrain.
In response to the protests, the Trump administration is said to be both preparing another round of sanctions and considering the reinstation of those that had been lifted by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a move which, if implemented, would almost certainly kill the Iranian nuclear agreement.