by Hanan Azizi
Unrest erupted once again in Iran over the weekend with protests over water shortages turning quickly into anti-regime anger.
The Tehran market uprising or the Bazaar protests, and other protests in various areas including the Ahwaz towns – which have been fueled by water scarcity, low water quality and the spread of contaminated water -have been erupting throughout the country. These recent protests and uprisings have been raising questions about the performance of President Rouhani’s government and his fate as a president.
The complex and highly conservative structure of the Tehran Bazaar makes it the hub of conservatives and the spiritual leader of the Iranian economy. For the last four decades, regardless of major internal conflicts, the activity of traders and owners in the bazaar has not stopped. Neither Bani Sadr stepping down in June 1981 nor the Green Movement in June 2009 were able to shut down the Tehran marketplace. The merchant class at the Tehran bazaar has also proved that it does not wish to change or overthrow the regime.
On 25th and 26th June, the Grand Bazaar witnessed a massive uprising unseen since the 1979 revolution. This shows that the Iranian regime has entered a new phase of unrest. The cycle of resentment and despair in improving economic and living conditions has widened and now includes parts of the wealthy upper class and the religiously committed class (traders in the bazaar) in Iran.
Criticism of the president has grown with Iran’s faltering economy. Deflation of the national currency and the failure of successive government policies to contain these crises have not only condemned the president, but the government bodies working closely with the Supreme Leader.
Slogans raised during the bazaar protests included “Leave Palestine alone and think of finding solutions to our problems” and “If the amount of fraud decreases, our problems will be solved”. The nature of such slogans considers the regime’s policies in the region and the widespread corruption in the governing bodies to be the main cause of the deteriorating economic conditions and environmental disasters. Amongst all the chaos, the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, continues to be the main subject of criticism and is being attacked by public opinion more than ever.
The conservatives have even called on parliament to withdraw its confidence of Hassan Rouhani or for Rouhani to resign due to the current instabilities.
ARE CALLS FOR ROUHANI TO STEP DOWN A NEW PHENOMENON?
A group of analysts and followers of Iranian affairs see that the militant forces, especially the Revolutionary Guards, have for long been trying to overthrow President Rouhani. The militant forces are seen to be trying to assume full power by bringing a conservative president instead of Rouhani.
“Al-Sadeq,” magazine, which is based in the Imam Sadeq University belonging to the conservatives, demanded during the massive protests in December 2017 for Rouhani to be removed from his post.
In March 2018, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, adviser to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, tweeted demanding early presidential elections due to the dollar’s rise. Telegram activists have long deliberated unconfirmed news about the possibility of “Revolutionary Guards overturning Rouhani’s government”.
Attacks on the President continued during the Bazaar protests on the hard-liners’ official media pages. Questions were raised on social media as to whether the Revolutionary Guards’ generals were actually moving towards a coup de tat.
It is clear that the Revolutionary Guards and the militants are trying to exploit the recurring crises and protests to their advantage and to wipe out Rouhani. For instance, Asadollah Badamchian, founder of the Islamic Coalition Party, asked the Iranian president to apologize to the people and hold early elections in a dialogue with a student agency on June 26. MP Amir Khcheste also said that a 10-day deadline should be given to the Government to present its plans on confronting the economic war waged by enemies against Iran. He added that if the government cannot persuade Parliament of its program then they will consider removing the president from office.
The public attacks on Rouhani reached the generals of the revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader’s close circle. General Yahya Rahim Safwa, Khamenei’s military adviser said on 24thJune: “it appears that the country can be better managed in the absence of the government.”
THE POSSIBILITY OF IMPEACHMENT
Hard-line elements, backed up by the Supreme Leader, have for long been pushing against the Iranian President to tarnish him. The amount of criticism has however immensely declined, causing Rouhani to avoid public criticism of the authorities as well.
This “calm” however, between the President, the Supreme Leader’s conservatives and the Revolutionary Guards, does not imply that the dispute among both sides has come to an end.
REASONS BEHIND THE DISPUTE
According to Iranian analysts, the main reason behind the dispute between the President and the hard-liners lies in the different scopes and interventions of each. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards adopt a military vision, while Rouhani’s priority is diplomatic.
The clash escalated after the Iran Nuclear Deal between Iran and the superpowers in July 2015. To Rouhani’s government, Iran cannot withstand the challenges it is facing by relying on its own capabilities, but needs to open up to the world and start welcoming foreign investments. Rouhani sees his country’s future prospering by resorting to diplomacy to deal with its problems, instead of the use of offensive and crisis-prone politics.
On the other hand, the Revolutionary Guards see this solution as reconciliation with the West. It also opposes their military and revolutionary policies that are the basis of their establishment. The conservative leaders fear that the normalisation of relations will put an end to the Islamic revolution and negate reasons for the existence of the revolutionary institutions. Iran opening its doors to foreign investment means limiting the Revolutionary Guards’ economic influence and is a serious threat to them as they are the country’s dominating power in the economic sector.
IS ROUHANI A THREAT OR A SAVIOUR?
The calm among President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader does not necessarily indicate the end of the dispute.
There are fundamental differences between Rouhani in 2017 and in 2018. The president ignored all the promises he made such as free access to social networks, lifting the house arrest from Green Movement leaders, writing a charter on citizenship rights and political and social freedoms. Even the Nuclear Deal, his government’s biggest achievement, seems to have gone with the wind after the United States’ withdrawal.
Iranian observers believe that Rouhani has lost popularity but still has a mass base in the middle class and is still considered a reformist candidate. Not to mention his previous experiences and responsibilities in the political, economic and military administration of the regime.
Amidst the unrest, the erupting protests and the economic turmoil, would the head of the regime and the military leaders risk the president’s impeachment? If so, then more severe waves of political and economic turmoil can be foreseen.