(Persia Digest) – A professor of sociology at Tehran University believes: “With increased levels of knowledge in society, Iranians understand the present situation under sanctions and will not protest as a reaction to the economic pressures; but they will show a conditional behavior against the political system.

Commenting on the root causes of protests in Iran during December and January 2017, Professor Taghi Azad Armaki told Persia Digest (PD): “After the victory of the Islamic Revolution there were protests almost every year which, except in one or two cases, were not so different in nature. Protests are brought about due to people’s living conditions and have social meaning with political impacts. Thus, protests are made on economic grounds and then find a social aspect involving people from different groups and eventually find a political form. Consequently, these three levels should be separated from one other.”

He added: “If we separate these three levels, then we will have three kinds of protests in Iran - social, political and economic. Every protest in Iran is considered as political since the political system immediately engages in the events, political groups try to benefit from the situation, and the foreign media try to provide a new definition for the incidents.

The university professor referred to the role played in protests by the political system and said: “In Iran the political system involves and exposes itself compulsorily in the events. After making judgements about the incidents, it will announce that the perpetrators are either misled domestic groups or foreign enemies. I am not saying that those factors are not important in the formation of protests, but political groups or foreign enemies are not the main cause of the events inside Iran. These are secondary factors. The basis of the protests lies in the economy, because Iran’s society is economically too weak and fragile and it is this extreme weakness that has become a source of concern for the political system.”

Referring to the weak body of Iran’s economy, Azad Armaki said: “The reason is that owners of wealth are not those who own the power; instead, it is the politicians who engage in the economy and make decisions. Therefore, while players in Iran’s economy are not investors or the private sector, the country’s economy will inevitably turn to another direction. For example, dams are built to solve the problem of wasted water, because dam building is a mega project and governments are inclined to be remembered by such projects.”

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“This is how in a society where there is no national economy based on producing wealth and trade, a paralyzed banking system emerges creating problems such as the dollar and foreign currencies problem and lead the country towards a fundamental crisis. While society is dealing with problems of earning a living, the majority of educated and skillful people have expectations which are not met. Such contrast in the social and economic fields forces people to act and this is why during the protests of 2017, it was the people who formed gatherings. People from the lower classes of society who, with their newly achieved knowledge, want a middle class quality of life.”

The social analyst added: “If economic issues were moving along normal tracks, members of the lower classes would never become involved in protests and would leave them to the members of the middle classes. But as they have realized that it is impossible to have the modern life they have recently become aware of, then they start to react. They gained their knowledge from, in the first instance, the Islamic Revolution, and then from political groups and their differences, revelations of realities, cyber space and the international community. All these have raised the level of people’s expectations.”    

As for the way law enforcement and security forces dealt with the protestors in 2017, Azad Armaki said: “As Iran has many reasons to protest and these are common place in society, the political system has become mature enough in dealing with it. If in the past it had shown a direct, suppressive reaction, today it interferes conditionally. The unrests of 2009 were a lesson both for the protestors and for the system. Both sides learned how to deal with protests. But the problem is that the political system is only capable of moving in the field of management not solving the problem, because it will immediately give a political aspect to the protests and when the protests become political they will become anti-governmental too and that was what happened in 2017.

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Commenting on the possibility of similar protest occurring in the current Iranian year due to economic pressures resulting from the sanctions, he said: “Two things can happen in reaction to economic pressures. One is massive protests and the other is acceptance of the situation by society. It means that society will understand that the country is under sanctions and while the government has between five to six million employees, the government’s incomes and expenditures are almost clear to everyone. Therefore, what is there to protest about unless they are after a regime change, which I believe people are not in that stage and regime change is not their concern.”

Commenting on how the US can use the potential of Iranians protests to achieve its goal of regime change, Azad Armaki said: “There is no such potential and they (US) have no such powers, because Iran has a vigilant society and this vigilance is not limited only to their expectations or demands. Iranians are completely aware of the consequences of US presence in the region and have witnessed the fate of the people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria after the US invaded those countries. That is why Iranians are not willing to have a situation worse than what they have now. Additionally, any minor changes can ruin people’s assets in general.  

However, society will not accept anything offered by the political system and will pursue a conditional behavior in dealing with it. That is why we saw people buying foreign currencies and gold while the government had asked them not to. The two sides are playing with each other. They are not giving the silent treatment and can organize their relations just like a match between two professional chess players which is time consuming. Their relations also need some time; but in the end, it is society will be the winner and the political system will be the loser, caving in to the former’s demands.”

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