The regime in Tehran prepares for clampdown on protesters

By disconnecting Iran from the internet, the regime is preparing the ground for brutal suppression of the protests.
Monday 18/11/2019
Iranians walk past a charred bank that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in gasoline prices in the central city of Isfahan on November 17, 2019. (AFP)
Iranians walk past a charred bank that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in gasoline prices in the central city of Isfahan on November 17, 2019. (AFP)

In the face of countrywide protests against the government’s introduction of patrol rationing and price hikes, the regime in Tehran is preparing a clampdown against protesters.

The regime pulled the plug on internet connectivity for the entire country 24 hours into the protests. On November 18, four days after the petrol price increases were announced, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued a public statement threatening to deal with “continued insecurity and disturbance of the public order in a decisive and revolutionary manner.”

The ability of the IRGC to restore order depends on its ability to terrorise the public into submission but for how long?

Iran’s decision is understandable. Iranian President Hassan Rohani said the budget for the fiscal year of March 21, 2020-March 21, 2021 is approximately $39 billion. About $14 billion of the government expenses are secured through taxes and other government revenues.

The remaining $25 billion has traditionally been covered by revenue from exports, which are severely limited because of US sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Reforming government subsidies is sound fiscal policy and the $25 billion gap in the budget provides the Rohani cabinet with added incentive to introduce petrol rationing and adjust the price.

The Iranian public, however, has difficulties understanding the rationale for policy change because Iran has for years downplayed the effect of sanctions on Iran’s economy and assured the public of its ability to deal with external economic pressures. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the Iranian public has no understanding for what it perceives as the government’s sudden encroachment on entitlements such as subsidised petrol.

Sporadic protests broke out after the price increases across Iran -- in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, in the oil-rich Khuzestan province and in Kerman in the south-east, where a protester was reportedly killed in clashes with security services. The protests spread and at least 12 protesters were killed and 2,000 were arrested.

Surprised by the magnitude and violence of the protests, Rohani forfeited the potential gain from the policy and promised to use them to increase basic income of low-income groups as early as November 26.

That did not calmed the protests and neither has Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s address November 17, in which he demanded the government see to it that increased fuel prices does not result in a general price hike. An impossibility, since the price of fuel is factored into almost any service and commodity.

The protesters are likely to take advantage of lack of coordination among the ruling elites. On November 16, Ayatollahs Seyyed Mohammad-Ali Alavi Gorgani and Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani criticised the government’s decision. So did Major-General Mohammad-Ali Jafari, former IRGC chief commander. Jafari criticised Rohani for provoking the public into rebellion. The parliament prepared a double urgency bill calling on the cabinet to withdraw the petrol rationing and price increase. It was only after Khamenei’s speech that the parliamentarians withdrew the bill.

Dark clouds are fast approaching the protesters. Following an initial phase of indecisiveness and lack of coordination among the Law Enforcement Force, the Basij militia and the IRGC, the security services are regrouping to address the threat.

By disconnecting Iran from the internet, the regime is preparing the ground for brutal suppression of the protests. The question is for how long the IRGC manages to wage war against the society it is a part of.