Conflicto social

Indians protest the film “Padmaavat” in Sikar, Rajasthan state, on Jan. 25. (AFP/Getty Images)

Children are at the heart of the celebrations that commemorate India’s Republic Day, the day the country officially adopted its  brilliantly progressive Constitution on Jan. 26, 1950. They come freshly scrubbed and brimming with wide-eyed enthusiasm to march in the customary public parade. The bravest among them are given awards by the prime minister. They are usually the most excited attendees in the stands on a misty January morning as India puts her full military might on display.

The events of this week have cast somewhat of a shadow over the celebrations. Millions of otherwise proud Indians felt betrayed, enraged and disappointed as we watched thugs armed with sticks and stones and bottles of petrol turn their fury on children and assault a school bus ferrying toddlers home.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators protest against price hikes in Tunis. Photo: Getty Images.

Civic protests look set to become the theme of this year in a number of Middle Eastern and North African states.

The year began with the Iranian protests in full swing. Then, for the first two weeks of January, thousands of people took part in sporadic protests across a number of Tunisian towns and cities against the apparent indifference of the government towards the impact of austerity. Its citizens have borne the brunt of IMF-backed economic reforms as the country struggles to regain economic balance seven years after the Arab Spring.

The protests continue this week in the southern Tunisian town of Metlaoui over jobs – or rather the lack of them – in the region’s phosphate mines, a main source of work and income.…  Seguir leyendo »

The recent spate of protests in Iran has ebbed — at least for the moment. The unrest caught the regime off guard. Initially it responded in the usual manner: by blaming foreigners and discrediting protesters. But in a pragmatic move, the leadership then acknowledged the protesters’ demands. This is new and significant because it signals a willingness to open up in order to stay in power. But doing too little or too much will jeopardize the system.

The protests began over economic hardship, and rapidly spread to more than 80 cities, leading to 1000 arrests and more than 20 deaths. Protests are not new in Iran, with sit-ins and peaceful protests a regular feature, especially since President Hassan Rouhani took office.…  Seguir leyendo »

Figure 2: Percentage of labor unrest outside of Tehran Province, 2012-16

Beginning on Dec. 28, a wave of protests surged across Iran, with at least 75 cities reportedly experiencing one or more demonstrations in the first week. Soon after they began, commentators rushed to attribute the protests to various grievances, from Ponzi-like banking scheme collapses and budget corruption allegations to soaring prices of eggs and gasoline. However, our research suggests that rather than grievances alone, an underappreciated precursor for the protests was the buildup of demonstrations and rallies by teachers, workers, trade unions and civil society associations.

Before the recent protests, we constructed a data set detailing labor unrest in Iran from 2012 to 2016.…  Seguir leyendo »

The protests in Iran seem to have died down, but if Iranian leaders fail to recognize that the status quo has become untenable and major reforms are unavoidable, they are only buying time until the next uprising, which could lead to greater instability.

It is easy for the leadership in Tehran to dismiss the outpouring of popular ire over economic and political stagnation. The latest protests were leaderless, too amorphous, too scattered, too provincial, and too shallow. Above all, they lacked a unifying objective. Protesters knew what they did not want, but differed on what they wanted. Slogans ranged from “death to inflation” to “death to embezzlers” to “death to the dictator” and “give up on Syria!…  Seguir leyendo »

The protests and rioting that have raged in parts of Tunisia since last week are sometimes branded, both inside the country and abroad, as signs of a new revolutionary moment similar to the 2010-2011 uprising that launched the Arab Spring. The images circulating, after all, give a sense of déjà-vu: young men burning tires at impromptu barricades, throwing stones at police; the army deploying to secure public institutions and banks, etc. This is indeed familiar: it has taken place at regular intervals, especially in winter months, for the last few years. As before, it will most likely die down: protestors are largely driven by specific socio-economic grievances, not a desire to overthrow the regime.…  Seguir leyendo »

Des forces spéciales tunisiennes montant la garde à Ettadhamen, le 14 janvier 2018. Crédits : FETHI BELAID/AFP

La Tunisie connaît un nouvel épisode de contestation et de violence sociale. Le dernier en date, celui de janvier 2016, avait contribué à écourter la durée de vie du gouvernement de Habib Essid, remplacé par l’actuel premier ministre, Youssef Chahed, en août 2016. Si le sentiment diffus est celui d’un bis repetita, le contexte est plus délicat et les aboutissements plus incertains.

L’euphorie révolutionnaire qui a suivi le départ de Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, le 14 janvier 2011, n’est désormais plus qu’un vague souvenir. La realpolitik, l’inertie administrative et le marasme économique ont transformé les espoirs en désillusion, voire en résignation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators after Iranian police fired tear gas to disperse protests over Iran’s weak economy, in Tehran last month. Credit Associated Press

The village of Zaras lies in a valley circled by the Zagros Mountains in southwestern Bakhtiari Province of Iran. An hour’s ride from Izeh, the nearest town, Zaras is home to about 60 families, who make a living from farming, pastoral nomadism and working as migrant laborers in Iranian cities.

On a September afternoon in 2014, I sat by the mud wall of a hazelnut garden with Darab, a 50-year-old farmer in Zaras. Darab, a man with a charming face and rough, calloused hands, cultivated potatoes, beans and onions on a plot of land slightly larger than an acre. Yet the harvest wasn’t enough to feed his family — his wife, his six children and his elderly parents.…  Seguir leyendo »

L’Iran bouge à nouveau et, comme en 2009, lors de la réélection contestée de Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, les médias s’agitent : va-t-on voir la fin de ce régime qui a bouleversé le monde musulman et toute la planète depuis bientôt quarante ans ? La crise actuelle est d’abord une crise intérieure, mais sur fond d’un chaos grandissant dans tout le Moyen-Orient.

Le mécontentement économique a entraîné des protestations en différents endroits grâce aux moyens de communication modernes, résultat d’un profond malaise. Même avec une inflation plus réduite, l’emploi des jeunes ne pourra redémarrer que lorsque l’Iran aura retrouvé des relations commerciales plus naturelles, ce que son potentiel pétrolier et gazier devrait permettre.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian riot police prevent university students from joining other protesters in Tehran on Dec. 30, 2017. (AP)

The swift spread of Iran’s protests through socially conservative and traditionally apolitical small cities is perhaps their most notable feature. Participation in anti-government protests in such locations carries potentially high costs. Why did the protests garner such support in these areas?

The protests started with a small rally against Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in Mashhad, a conservative-leaning city. It was staged by conservative activists, who initially blamed Rouhani’s administration for high prices and poor economic performance. But this small demonstration rapidly attracted more people, spread to other cities, and finally, broadened its message to include the entire political establishment.

Protests against government economic policies are not unprecedented.…  Seguir leyendo »

La mejor esperanza del pueblo iraní

Uno de los aspectos más extraordinarios de las protestas que se desarrollan en Irán (las mayores desde el Movimiento Verde de 2009) es que es muy posible que las hayan iniciado los mismos contra quienes están dirigidas. Parece que los teócratas ultraconservadores de Irán creyeron que agitando en sus bastiones políticos el malestar por la economía podrían debilitar al presidente moderado Hassan Rouhani. Pero si es así, no anticiparon hasta qué punto el pueblo iraní está insatisfecho con el statu quo, y en particular, con ellos.

Seamos claros: pese a la gran magnitud de las protestas, es muy improbable que acaben con el régimen.…  Seguir leyendo »

Authorities in Iran are rounding up protesters — and nearly all of them are young adults with degrees. Of all the facts and figures trickling out of the country this past week, one number stood out: According to Iran’s Interior Ministry, more than 90 percent of those detained so far have an average age under 25.

Members of the most educated generation in Iran’s history — more than 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are enrolled in some form of higher education, triple the rate from just 10 years ago — they are also its least employed. Among young Iranians, who make up half the country’s population, 40 percent are without work or steady income.…  Seguir leyendo »

Qué mueve las protestas en Irán

El repentino brote de agitación civil que se extendió por varias ciudades de Irán desde fines de diciembre tomó a casi todos por sorpresa, incluidos el gobierno reformista del presidente Hassan Rouhani, muchos ciudadanos y los observadores. Las protestas, que comenzaron en Mashhad (una importante ciudad religiosa en el noreste del país, bastión de los enemigos conservadores de Rouhani), no tardaron en contagiarse a numerosas ciudades más pequeñas, con una velocidad e intensidad que pocos hubieran podido predecir.

Al principio las protestas eran por el aumento del costo de vida y las crecientes disparidades económicas y sociales, pero pronto se transformaron en un rechazo al régimen mismo; y aunque el descontento apuntó más que nada al aparato religioso comandado por el Líder Supremo iraní (el ayatolá Ali Khamenei), los reformistas tienen tanto en juego como sus rivales conservadores.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian students run from tear gas during a demonstration at the University of Tehran on Dec. 30. (Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

The breadth and depth of the protests in Iran, which began on Dec. 28 in response to popular dissatisfaction with the poor economy and political repression in the country, are posing a serious challenge to the Islamic republic. There have been marches and lightning protests in dozens of cities, towns and villages across the country. Businesses have gone on strike to protest regime corruption. A new Twitter hashtag, “if there was no Islamic Republic,” is prompting Iranians to envisage an alternative future without a theocracy.

Not surprisingly, the Iranian regime, initially caught off guard by the wide-ranging protests in traditionally pro-government areas, has cracked down hard.…  Seguir leyendo »

Europe’s silence

It’s tempting to say that Europe’s leaders lack the courage of their convictions. But that would imply that they have convictions. The evidence suggests those days are gone.

In particular, Europe’s leaders have been conspicuously unmoved by the spectacle of Iranians, day after day, taking to the streets in dozens of cities and towns, risking arrest, torture and death to protest their oppression and impoverishment by a religious class that has been Iran’s ruling class for almost two generations.

The theocrats have used the nation’s oil wealth, in addition to the billions of dollars that have filled Iranian coffers thanks to sanctions relief, to support fighters in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza.…  Seguir leyendo »

Will Iran’s Protests Help the Hard-Liners

In July 2003, I was covering a protest near the Tehran University dormitory. The demonstrators felt invincible: Their numbers had swelled night after night despite orders from the authorities to withdraw. They chanted slogans demanding more freedom; “Death to the Dictator,” a reference to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who still has the final word on all state matters; and “Forget About Palestine, Give Us a Thought,” to express their anger at their country’s foreign policy, which came at a cost to domestic investments that could have created jobs for unemployed youth.

Later that night, the protests were crushed.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pro-government supporters in the Iranian city of Najafabad march during the funeral of a young member of the Revolutionary Guard on Wednesday. (Morteza Salehi/Agence France-Presse/Getty)

The unrest that started last week all over Iran, and which has resulted in the deaths of at least 21 people, has many causes, ranging from grievances relating to the country’s economy and discontent with its political system. For the first time, however, since the protests of 2009 (better known as the Green Movement), the current wave has put pressure on both Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and its more moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. Though this is difficult to confirm, it seems that the demonstrations that started in the holy city of Mashhad on Dec. 28 were organized by hard-liners, who encouraged the rioters to direct their economic frustrations against the reformist Rouhani.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian students and riot police clashed during a protest in Tehran. Credit European Pressphoto Agency

Iranians complain about the economy. They always have. I heard these complaints every time I visited Iran between 2004 and 2012, and I heard them from both middle-class people and the working poor. That Iranians complain about the economy was also something economists told me: People complain, they said, because they complain. But the numbers aren’t all that bad.

I never found this assurance very satisfying. The complaints I heard in those days were about missing paychecks, skyrocketing real estate and the price of meat. You could quote numbers about economic growth or declining poverty all you liked. It didn’t change people’s experience.…  Seguir leyendo »

La ola de protestas que sacude Irán es la más importante desde el Movimiento Verde del 2009, pero su naturaleza es muy diferente. Las movilizaciones de entonces, que comenzaron como reacción a la reelección fraudulenta del conservador populista Mahmud Ahmadineyad, estaban lideradas por intelectuales reformistas y reflejaban las reivindicaciones políticas de las clases medias; las actuales carecen de liderazgo y comenzaron expresando los agravios económicos de los más desfavorecidos. En el 2009, centenares de miles de personas marcharon en las calles de Teherán y otras grandes ciudades, en general de forma pacífica; las acciones de los últimos días, a menudo violentas, se han extendido a docenas de poblaciones de todo el país, pero la participación ha sido mucho menor.…  Seguir leyendo »

Anti-riot Iranian police prevent university students from joining other protesters over Iran’s weak economy on Dec. 30 in Tehran, in this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran. (AP)

A widespread wave of protests has swept Iran over the past week. Originating mainly in the provinces, these events have been leaderless, similar in ways to the Arab Spring uprisings. Iranian reformists are a group that could have provided leadership but have so far decided to stay out of the action. Some have attributed reformists’ reluctance to their fear of Iran turning into Syria, their past support for Hassan Rouhani’s government or the incompatibility of reportedly aggressive tactics with peaceful reformist methods.

However, my research suggests this decision is actually rooted in the reformist strategic thinking formed during late 1990s.

Why would these protests need leaders?…  Seguir leyendo »