More demonstrations as the regime scrambles to beat new sanctions.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Iranians are protesting in the streets again, only a few months after the regime crushed nationwide demonstrations over the country’s sagging economy and widespread corruption. The periodic eruptions are a sign of discontent that may spread as the pressure from renewed U.S. sanctions increases.
The latest upheavals centered in the southwestern city of Khorramshahr over the weekend, after brown fluid started running out of taps. Hundreds of residents gathered in a public space reserved for Friday prayers and blamed local officials for the lack of potable water, chanting such anti-government slogans as “in the name of religion, they plundered us.” Protests also broke out in nearby Abadan.
The weekend demonstrations are part of a larger pattern of discontent with the ruling theocracy in Tehran. In December and January, demonstrations erupted in more than 100 cities and towns over inflation, joblessness and graft. Women staged hijab protests, ripping off their veils. In March farmers from Isfahan province in central Iran protested long droughts. In May truckers went on a nationwide strike to protest stagnant wages and rising costs.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani promised that the 2015 nuclear deal, which funneled tens of billions in hard currency to Iran, would usher in better economic times. Instead, the regime used the money to finance its Quds Force operations and Shiite militias in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
President Trump’s May decision to exit the nuclear deal and reimpose financial sanctions is already increasing pressure on the regime. Protestors swarmed Tehran’s Grand Bazaar last month after the local currency, the rial, slumped to 90,000 to the dollar in the black market. The rial has fallen roughly by half since the end of 2017, as traders and banks anticipate a harder time getting dollars. Economist Steve Hanke estimates annual inflation has spiked to 126%.
In August the U.S. Treasury plans to reimpose sanctions on gold and other precious metals, U.S. dollar dealing, trade in Iranian sovereign debt, and autos. In November U.S. sanctions will kick in on ports, shipbuilding, petroleum, energy, insurance, and more. A State Department official suggested last month that the U.S. wants to halt all Iranian oil exports, but on Monday policy planning director Brian Hook said it will consider waivers for countries on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Rouhani responded Tuesday by threatening to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries in the Middle East, but that would court U.S. intervention to keep oil flowing through the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. doesn’t want an oil-price spike with a barrel already selling for nearly $75. But the risks are far greater for Iran if it doesn’t change its marauding behavior because its political control at home is far from certain.