Bazaar protests could be the beginning of the end for Tehran regime

So the powers that be in Teheran know that red lines had been crossed when the institution of the bazaar takes to the street.
Sunday 01/07/2018
Iranians walk through the old grand bazaar where shops are closed after a protest, in Tehran, on June 25. (AFP)
Iranians walk through the old grand bazaar where shops are closed after a protest, in Tehran, on June 25. (AFP)

Iranian authorities repeat ad nausea that the latest bazaar protests were purely economically motivated and had no political character. At the end of last year, there were massive demonstrations in more than 70 cities against declining standards of living, runaway inflation and disappearing development services; yet the Iranian regime saw nothing political in these demonstrations.

When demonstrators loudly demand that Iran pulls out of its adventures abroad and out of Syria especially, the regime claims that those slogans were the evil work of “intruders” and do not reflect the demands of the demonstrators.

When bazaars in Iran go on strike, everybody pays attention –, especially the mullahs’ regime.

In Iran’s history, the bazaar is more than just a centralised marketplace and a symbol for sharing wealth. In many of the major protests that changed the political scene in Iran since the 19th century, including the revolution that did away with the shah and put in place the Islamic Republic, the bazaar played a major role. So the powers that be in Teheran know that red lines had been crossed when the institution of the bazaar takes to the street.

Since 1979, the Iranian regime has dealt with protests by qualifying them as “conspiracies” by enemies of the “revolution,” then crushing them using violence through assassinations, death sentences, imprisonment and house arrests. However, when the bazaar rebels, the system is shaken to its foundations because the mullahs’ regime is founded on an implicit alliance between business and the religious institution at Qom. When the bazaar removes its cover, there are lessons to be heeded.

During the protests of December and January, there was an intriguing paradox in the way the conservative and moderate wings of power interpreted the events. Both wings, of course, condemned the protests. As usual, the conservatives dealt with them as if they were banal riots and, while the moderates shared that point of view, they did not see in the protests what they had seen in the “Green Revolution” of 2009.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s government exchanged accusations with the religious institution about the failure of the country’s economic policies but curiously enough none of the official sources brought up the international sanctions against Iran and their drastic effects. It goes without saying that nobody heard the protesters shouting: “Not for Gaza or for Lebanon, my soul is for Iran.”

Iran’s withdrawal from the region’s battlefields remains an urgent internal demand. The bazaar knows that Iran’s economic crisis is not a technical one that can be solved with measures or by making changes in the government. It follows that Iran’s withdrawal from its regional quagmires is the root to any escape from the country’s economic suffocation.

What is clamoured in the streets and what is whispered in the backrooms of power interestingly intersects with a unanimous international will to confine the Iranian phenomenon to its borders?

Tehran is obsessively and anxiously contemplating the biggest threat facing the Islamic Republic regime. Observers are noting its inability to come up with creative defences different from the barrage of incendiary statements from the country’s leaders and generals.

Ironically, Tehran is usually oblivious to signs of potential military plans targeting it but still retorts with military rhetoric. At the same time, it meticulously reads and understands the wave upon wave of economic pressure hitting the country but can do nothing but stand helplessly in the face of an expected collapse into a bottomless pit.

The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and his regime know that the former Soviet Union, which at one point ruled over half of the world, shockingly collapsed in a sudden and abrupt moment despite possessing a huge military and nuclear arsenal. The Soviet fortress disintegrated after its war in Afghanistan and, similarly, the rule of the supreme guide could as easily come apart after the war in Syria. Iran’s economic body, arrogantly inflating itself in a cage parading around the streets of the bazaar, is disintegrating on the shores of that war.

The bazaar taking to the streets means that a rupture had occurred between it and the regime. The bazaar is not a stranger to the government. A few of its figures are part of the regime and represent one of its facades. It seems that the generals and institutions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had started to compete with the bazaar economically, undermining its traditional role.

The bazaar is rebelling. If it had done so years ago, it would have been quelled just like all the previous dissents but the bazaar is rebelling at a moment when the theocratic regime is weakened and is unable to subdue it.

The significance of watching the bazaar’s movements and the collapse of the Iranian currency resides in that these developments are occurring right before new US sanctions. US President Donald Trump’s administration is continuing to mount pressure in a way that can only force Tehran to the negotiation table to prevent the regime’s collapse. It seems that the Iran problem is a personal one for Trump, and it looks like his rapprochement with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has given him maximum momentum to go as far as possible against Tehran.

Washington is seeking to prevent Iran from selling its oil. The US administration has been successful in stopping multinational corporations’ activities in Iran and has shown to the rest of the world — especially those involved in the nuclear deal — the high cost of ignoring American sanctions.

On the other hand, it should be easy for Rohani and his government to see that Iran cannot rely on other international “partners” to face up to Washington’s sanctions and its reneging of the infamous Vienna deal.

To the rhythm of these realities, the bazaar continues to rumble and rumours swirl of Rohani’s resignation, early elections and a referendum over regime type. Iran is talking to itself and the regime is eating itself and itching for a skin change.

Iran has long boasted of being part of the “axis of evil,” which Washington promised the world that it would do away with. In Tehran, many are worryingly looking at how the sides of this axis are falling one by one.