Iran’s Interior Minister has warned that protests in the country could flare up again, given that “generational change” had been a factor in the unrest, and that “grievances” had not gone away. However, while acknowledging the likelihood of renewed unrest, he failed to provide any recommendations about how it could be prevented, or to offer any reassurances to the Iranian public.
Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli spoke to two newspapers, Iran and Hamshahri, about the protests that took place across Iran in late December and early January, published on March 11 and 12 respectively [Persian links]. Although in the interviews, he gave details on the number of people arrested and the cities affected, he gave no clear analysis of what happened or what steps the government should take next.
In late December and early January, a wave of nationwide protests shook Iran, some of them breaking into violence. The unrest has led to a plethora of punditry, soul searching, head scratching and every other imaginable reaction, from horror to glee.
According to Rahmani Fazli, more than 5,000 people were arrested in the course of the protests, and of those, between 700 and 800 people are currently being “taken seriously” by the agencies that arrested them. He also added that his ministry had no firm evidence that the protests had been orchestrated by political entities inside or outside Iran. Neither, he added, was there any proof that organized social movements were behind the unrest.
In both interviews, Rahmani Fazli resorted to vague generalities. He confirmed that the protests had spread to 90 cities across Iran and that clashes had occurred in 42 of those, but made no mention of the identities of any of the arrested protesters.
In fact, the minister appeared to draw a line between ordinary citizens and demonstrators, hinting that those who took to the streets were an isolated group of unruly trouble causers who had gone out to destroy public property. He added that his ministry had done its best to prevent “people” from joining the protests — by which he seemed to be referring to average citizens.
Lifestyle and Generational Changes to Blame
At the same time, he rejected the conclusions of analysts who had said that unemployment and economic problems were among the main causes for the protests. “More than 60 percent of protesters were employed,” he said. “If economic pressures were the main factor then the protests would have taken place among margin-dwellers [in shantytowns and poor neighborhoods], but this was not what happened.”
He announced that the Supreme National Security Council was preparing a report about the root causes of the protests. According to the report, “economic, social and political grievance exist that need only a spark to burst into flames.”
In other parts of his interviews, Rahmani Fazli tried to indirectly present the protests as results of a “generational change” and “changes in the lifestyles” of Iranians. “You cannot claim that this incident was a great event with national significance,” he said, and then seemed to contradict himself: “Even though this much grievance and the political, social, economic and security costs that they inflicted on the country are irreparable.” However, he avoided going into any specifics about just what these “grievances” were.
Although he stopped short of outright admonition, he did implicitly criticize authorities for failing to acknowledge and understand that changes in generational views and lifestyles might be a contributing factor to the events. And yet, even in that criticism, he failed to provide an explanation for what he meant by this and how these changes might be accommodated into Iranian society.
By evading specifics and talking only in generalities, Rahmani Fazli was trying to protect the government of President Rouhani, which has been loath to be seen as committing itself to a specific point of view where the protests are concerned. The interior minister also tried to downplay or even deny that Rouhani’s conservative critics had initially triggered the protests and then lost control of them, despite reports of this at the time.
So, despite having apparent access to some of the facts — that 30,000 to 40,000 people were involved in protests in 90 cities and towns across Iran — in his refusal to specify what actually happened and how it might be avoided in the future, Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli has inadvertedly emphasized other possible contributing factors to malaise in the country: Obfuscation and denial. Until Iran’s leaders face up to the reality around them, its people will continue to voice their grievances. And no amount of talking in generalities can cover this up.
More on 2017-2018 unrest in Iran:
Does Khamenei’s Apology for “Injustice” Mean Anything?, February 2018
Revolutionary Guards “Consult” Reformists, February 2018
The Economic Despair Behind Iran’s Protests, January 2018
Unemployment and Inflation are an Explosive Mix, January 2018
Iranians Are 15% Poorer than a Decade Ago, January 2018
What Makes the Recent Unrest Different, January 2018
The Guards’ Conspiracy Theory About the Protests, January 2018
People Have Left the Reformists Behind, January 2018