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Management of January 2018 Protests

Management of January 2018 Protests
ID : N-1238 Date : 2018/02/08 - 10:09

(Persia Digest) - The years 2017/2018 will certainly be recorded as an important years in the history of Iran. Not only because of the 12th presidential elections and the victory of Mr Rouhani, but also due to the protests which, in fact, began on 28 December 2017 in Mashhad, but quickly spread to other cities. The protests surprised and amazed many, so that officials and experts sought to find its roots. Some claimed it was due to the efforts of the opposing faction of the executive branch and would eventually backfire. Another expert, in a comparison between the two indicators of employment and inflation in the eight years of Mr Ahmadinejad’s government and the second term of Mr Rouhani’s government, concludes that “It is reasonable to say these rallies are not based on a spontaneous social response and instinctive reaction of the people.

It is like putting your hand in very hot water, but not feel any burning sensation, and even laugh and say that it is just warm; but then put your hand in warm water and scream about being burned! No one accepts this kind of behavior. There is certainly something else going on, besides the spontaneous behavior.” Other people, like Mr Raghfar, consider the street protests in January 2018 to be due to false economic policies followed every year after the Iraq-Iran war. He believes the main cause of the rallies is economic issues and the damage that has been rooted in economic policies over the past three decades. According to Mr Raghfar, these policies have turned into a festering wound, which is bleeding once again. Additionally, some individuals known as non-reformists, while determining the cause of the protests, also dragged Saddam's brother-in-law into the mix.

The purpose of this article is not only to trace the reasons for the January protests, but also to investigate the type of encounter with, or in other words the management of, the protests - if we are to believe in the existence of management in the face of the January protests and other similar protests. The government's encounter with the January protests is briefly outlined below.

In encountering the protests after several days, government rallies were held, social media such as Instagram and Telegram were blocked for several days, and eventually, with the arrest of a number of protesters - according to Iran Newspaper Telegram channel, the total number of arrests were reported to be 4972 people - the protests abated. In the end, we see a temporary end to the protests. We say “temporary” end of protests, because until its roots are properly recognized and accepted by the ruling authorities, the protests will just be postponed and, therefore, management does not take place in scientific terms.

If the protests were mostly caused by unemployment, unfavorable economic conditions, lack of hope for the future and..., in this case, the best management would be to solve these issues, not to arrest the protestors or cut off social media applications such as Telegram, because the protests were the result of such issues which still exist. It should be noted that politics is not a one-person or one-sided affair. Every political society is made up of groups and forces that are more or less involved in political life. Social forces may rise up against the making of power, or participate in it, influence it, or become politically passive. On the other hand, governments may suppress social forces beyond the realms of power, or let them in the powerhouse, or mobilize support.

The government itself as the most important political entity, is not socially hovering in void, but exists in the context of a complex network of social interests and profits, and one cannot properly understand its nature without knowing these interests and profits. Although the government is the most powerful manifestation of political power, it is not free from the domination of social forces. The government is the sphere of social struggles and the domination of some of them on others.

Generally, governments have four different faces or bases. The first is on the basis of compulsion and has a compulsory face; the second one has an ideological basis and an ideological face; the third has a public face or providing public services and functions; and the fourth is on the basis of material interests and has a private face. The minimal existence of these bases is necessary for any political system. A government that loses the power of compulsion and its suppression systems are weakened will become unstable. Usually, opponents and enemies of political systems are familiar with their compulsory face. Although domination and compulsion are the most important elements of a political society, governments need the support and approval of the people in order to legitimize their power.

When the obedience and loyalty of the people to the state are based on general and ethical principles and reasons, the state’s power and compulsion are more easily accepted. Governments have long been tasked with general functions. Defending against foreign attacks, resolving domestic disputes, performing public services and providing a system of arbitration, prosecution and justice are the most deep-rooted faces of the state.

Some people may believe that if the reasons for the protests are unemployment or economic problems, then solving these is not a state duty and, therefore, the private sector should be responsible for these matters. The most liberal governments come to the aid of the most private economic institutions in times of economic crisis, and with regard to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is the largest employer and therefore has the most economic resources, the government cannot be exempted from such functions. Thus, until the government is able to carry out these functions properly, such protests will continue to happen. Future protests may worsen with other crises arising, such as water shortages, environmental issues, dust storms, and so on.

The January protests showed that the postponement of crises is not the answer. And if we do not or cannot respond to crises (of any kind) we have not done any management, but only used control or swept it under the carpet. It should also be noted that the more the compulsive and repressive face of the state is used, the more its legitimate face will be diminished. Therefore, it is not wise to only resort to compulsive governmental measures in the face of protests and crises. Rather, by increasing the efficiency of the state (ie, performing appropriate public duties by the government for the people), the legitimization can be increased, and it also helps to diminish the compulsory face of the government in confronting its domestic opponents.

Finally, a few points are worth mentioning:

First, in this paper, the word "government" is used in its special meaning in political science, not the executive branch.

Second, it can be assumed that some opportunists or even opponents of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran are trying to exploit Iran's domestic protests. But diminishing the causes of domestic protests and crises into foreign conspiracies, regardless of the internal causes of the occurrence or intensification of crises, is not the way to deal with these. And so, we need to accurately determine the contribution of each of these to avoid mistakes when responding to them.

Third, just as the use of repressive means in the face of protests and crises do not work, remaining silent and denying the existence of protests and crises are also not the answer. Therefore, the groundwork must be laid for dialogue and solution finding to manage crises and protests.

Habib Rezazadeh, PhD student in political science and Editor in Chief of the quarterly journal of political science of Tarbiat Modarres University

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