Iran is a country in the Middle East. Tehran is it’s capital and the largest city. Most Iranians are Muslim, or followers of Islam. Religion is central to day to day life. The country is controlled by a religious figure called the Supreme Leader, The President is second in command and is elected by the people. He reports to the Supreme Leader. Hassan Rouhani is the current President of Iran.
Why is Iran in the news today?
Protests started on 28 December, 2017, in Iran’s second largest city of Mashhad. Iranians were protesting high prices of basic goods such as eggs and other food items. The protests then spread to the capital city of Tehran and other major cities across Iran.
So what happened to trigger the protests? Sometimes, there is so much unhappiness that it takes just one more incident to push people over the edge. Here, it happened to be the price of eggs that went up a lot.
What do the price of eggs have to do with protests in Iran? The Iranian people are upset with the government because of the:
- High unemployment rate within the young working class (under 30 years old). Unemployment is at 12.4%, and includes many recent university graduates. This means that more than 12 out of every 100 people do not have jobs.
- President Rouhani’s failed promises about employment and better times for the Iranian people.
- Government’s foreign policy. Iran is spending a lot of money on conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East when people are suffering at home. For example, some have criticised Iran’s military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran has sent cash, weapons and fighters to Syria.
- Economy is still struggling despite the lifting of sanctions under an international nuclear deal signed by President Rouhani in 2015. Iran has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. The country was unable to trade it as the international community was upset with Iran’s nuclear capabilities and imposed a trade ban. After many years of negotiations Iran promised to limit its nuclear development in exchange for the ability to trade freely. This was expected to help Iranian companies and people earn much more money. This has not happened yet.
Back to the eggs! The prices of basic goods had, in the past year, increased by roughly 40 percent. At the same time, Iran had a stroke of bad luck where a lot of their chickens got infected with a virus. These chickens had to be killed, and therefore, there were far less eggs in the country. There was high demand for eggs, and limited supply. This meant that eggs suddenly cost a lot more. This was the last straw for a lot of people, the price of eggs became a symbol for Iran’s bigger problems — and the failure of the President Rouhani’s government to solve them.
The protests lasted for 6 days and in some cases turned violent. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested and a few have been killed. Police have used force and tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Authorities have blocked Instagram and a messaging application called Telegram. It is believed that communication in the Telegram application helped organise some of those who took to the street, including times and locations for protests
So what is Telegram?
Telegram is a widely used social media application in Iran. Of Iran’s population of 80 million, an estimated 40 million use the free app. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users and share their views and plans. It allows messages to be encrypted, or put into code, so that only the sender and the receiver can read them. These secret messages are a way for people to share their views and make their plans in a secure way. The application also allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period, making it a favourite among activists and others concerned about their privacy.
How does the current situation look?
The Supreme Leader accused the country’s “enemies” for starting this uprising. Who are Iran’s enemies? The United States, its allies, and anti-government Iranian exiles. President Rouhani has accepted some of the concerns of the people but has strongly condemned people who were trying to derail the government.
The government is trying to control the situation. Right now, there are a new set of pro-government demonstrators on the streets. The demonstrators have been waving Iranian flags, holding photos and signs supporting their Supreme Leader, and giving support to the government. The television and other forms of media are showing this on TV screens to try and influence the people watching, to show them that there is still support for the leaders of the government.