Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan and Fars. As of now, these four provinces have seen the highest casualties during the November protests that started after Iran’s government tripled fuel prices. But they also share another distinction. In recent years these provinces have been hit by severe economic and social crises – among the worst in the country.
According to Amnesty International, by Thursday, November 21, at least 106 protesters had been killed: 35 in Khuzestan, four in West Azerbaijan, nine in Tehran, one in Isfahan, 30 in Kermanshah, four in Alborz, 10 in Kurdistan, 12 in Fars and one in Kerman. The internet blackout and other communications disruptions mean that the number of protesters killed is likely far higher; but for the moment, these numbers are the most reliable available.
The map above does not illustrate the scope of the protests – which certainly covered many more provinces and areas – but it does provide a base for exploring the correlation between protests and social and economic crises.
Who are the Protesters?
The bulk of the November protesters are poor and low-income people – angry people whose patience has run out. These people who, according to official reports, struggle with hunger and malnutrition, and whose life circumstances have only worsened in recent years. They constitute a population that, with the collapse of the middle class in the last 10 years, has grown and most likely now accounts for 70 percent of Iranians. These people are protesting against devastating economic hardship – and they have come to realize that the political system of the Islamic Republic lacks the ability to solve their problems.
The reports that, as of now, have come out of Iran show that the epicenters of protests generally correspond to poverty-stricken areas, margins of big cities and provinces where social and economic crises have been more devastating.
The map above illustrates the intensity of the misery index in Iranian provinces. The darker the color, the higher the misery index rating. This, however, does not mean that provinces in lighter colors enjoy ideal conditions. For instance, the 42 percent misery index for Qom, the lowest in Iran, would be considered an unmitigated disaster anywhere else in the world. And the situation is even worse for the provinces marked in darker colors.
The misery index is an economic indicator that combines a country’s annual inflation rate and unemployment rate. In the first half of the current Iranian calendar year of 1398 (March 21 to September 22, 2019) the average misery index for Iran was 43, one of the highest in the world. With a misery index of over 50, provinces of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Lorestan, Kermanshah, Sistan and Baluchistan, Khuzestan and Kurdistan have suffered even worse than the national average. And now three of these provinces – Khuzestan, Kermanshah and Kurdistan – have seen the highest number of casualties in recent protests.
In recent years Khuzestan has been at the epicenter of crises in Iran – from pollution, environmental degradation, floods and earthquakes to a severe economic crisis. The province has also seen vast labor protests over the past two years. According to the latest figures from Iran’s statistical office, the average unemployment rate between March and September, 2019, was 15.5 percent – 5 percent more than the average unemployment rate for the 31 Iranian provinces.
The average rate of inflation in Khuzestan for the same period was close to 41 percent. This was three percent higher than the average for the whole country. Based on these numbers, the misery index for Khuzestan is over 56 percent, 7.5 percentage points above the national average.
The people of Kermanshah faced a devastating and deadly earthquake two years ago, and had their share of the massive floods that struck Iran earlier this year. They have had to deal with broken government promises, unresolved ethnic tensions and other political problems.
Kermanshah also has one of Iran’s worst unemployment rates – though the situation has perhaps improved slightly. Unemployment during March to September of this year was 14.5 percent, 4 percent higher than the national average, and its inflation rate was more than 37 percent. This resulted in a misery index rating of close to 52 percent – three percentage points higher than the national average.
Kurdistan’s social and economic problems are rooted in longstanding political difficulties. But looking at economic indicators alone shows than, on top of the unique challenges facing Iranian Kurdistan, an economic crisis also weighs heavily on the people of this province.
Figures published by Iran’s statistics office shows that Kurdistan has the third-highest misery index placing in the country. The average rate of unemployment in Kurdistan between March and September of this year was close to 13 percent; inflation, meanwhile, was at 45 percent, the highest among all Iranian provinces. This translates to a misery index of over 58 percent, 10 percent higher than the national average and one of the highest in the world.
More accurate reports on the numbers of protesters killed, and where, will make it possible to draw stronger correlations between the eruption of protests in Iran and the severity of social, economic and environmental crises. That map will in turn show who the protesters are, where they come from, and what has caused them to be so desperate as to risk their lives for others to hear their cries.
Why Force is Never an Appropriate Economic Solution, November 21, 2019
Shutting Down the Internet to Get Away with Murder, November 19, 2019
Who Benefits From the Rise in Gas Prices — The Rich, the Poor or the Regime?, November 16, 2019
Iranians Protest After “Sad but Necessary” Decision to Raise Gas Prices, November 15, 2019
How Corruption is Gnawing Iran from Within, November 14, 2019
Iran Breaks Misery Index Records Among Nations, November 6, 2019
The Misery Map of Iranian Provinces, November 6, 2019
Iran’s Shrinking Economy, October 21, 2019
Employment Figures for Summer 2019: Has it Really Improved?, October 11, 2019
A Bleak Future for Iran's Job Market, May 3, 2019
Iran’s Unemployment Crisis: Only 11 Million Full-time Jobs, January 23, 2019