Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced a throng of unhappy citizens demonstrating against his regime this past Monday, citing a soaring cost of living and fears of imminent American sanctions under the administration of President Trump, The Independent reports. In the largest display of public discontent since the massive protests in 2012 which followed what the world called “The Day of Rage,” protesters filled the streets of Tehran and urged shopkeepers to close up and join them. Often engaging in small conflicts with police as reported by NPR, the demonstrators were vocal in their demand for a new, more moderate government despite.
Crowds, at one point, shut down the enormous sprawl that is the Grand Bazaar — an economic fulcrum and the very place the 1979 Iranian revolution gained its first footing.
It is clear that President Trump’s administration is attempting to leverage their substantial economic power against the Iranian leadership comprised of President Rouhani and his staff. The Wall Street Journal reports that there will be a hard line in the sand drawn about Iran, with particular attention being paid to their lucrative oil exports. Calling for increased production of domestic oil, and for other nations across the world to broaden their trade relationships on oil in order to exclude Iran from the table, the Trump administration has made it clear that they are exerting strong political force against Rouhani’s Iran.
The United States has threatened, unreservedly and without exemption, to enact sanctions against any nation state which purchases oil from Iran following the November deadline.
In Iran, the situation becomes increasingly dire as international trade partners shy away from doing business with them. The rial, Iran’s national currency, has fallen to historic lows, requiring 90,000 rial to form just one U.S. dollar. The government maintains that the official exchange rate is 42,000 rial to the dollar, however, this is not borne out in reality according to reportage from NPR. The rial has fallen sharply twice in response to both President Trump’s firm decision to abandon the “Iran Deal” negotiated by his predecessor, former President Obama, and his more recent decision to exert heavy leverage against Iran’s oil market, a market responsible for keeping the Iranian economy afloat.
President Rouhani took to television to address the increasing tensions, blaming the United States for Iran’s financial problems during a press conference held on state broadcast. Rouhani claimed that the protests were instigated by “foreign media propaganda” rather than being a grassroots response to the current economic crisis.
The Iranian president also followed these accusations with the claim that, no matter what, and even in the worst-case scenario, Iran would survive the brutal sanctions.
“Even in the worst case, I promise that the basic needs of Iranians will be provided. We have enough sugar, wheat, and cooking oil. We have enough foreign currency to inject into the market…” Rouhani stated, as per Reuters.
Whether Iran can weather the coming economic storm is uncertain, though some analysts are quoted by the WSJ as doubting that President Trump will even expend the political capital necessary to force international oil sanctions with the midterm elections coinciding with the deadline for compliance with the U.S. oil policy. President Trump, mercurial and often unpredictable, may evade boilerplate political analysis, however.
One thing beyond speculation, however, is that Iran faces a serious threat of regime change. Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University, reiterated the importance of the organic roots spurring the growth of this particular uprising and the demonstrations that are its voice.
“They have taken place amongst the regime’s hitherto reliable basis of support — the members of the bazaar and the working classes. For over a hundred years, strikes in bazaars have been harbingers of change and invariably the clergy were allied with these merchants. Now the ruling clergy are the subject of the merchants’ wrath.”
In other words, experts are suggesting that the economy must improve or Rouhani will certainly face increasing and unrelenting pressure to resign his post.