(Persia Digest) – An Iranian sociologist believes: “The absence of a coherent policy for unified dialogue and basic interaction in governance, as well as disunity in foreign policy approaches has prepared the grounds for domestic discontent.”

Nasser Fakouhi, a university professor, told Persia Digest (PD): “No social protests have only one single cause. They have many causes which cannot be limited to one specific time or place. Therefore, one of the common mistakes made while analyzing the protest movements is that every [political] group sought to interpret them according to their own interests. For instance, some groups considered it an inter-factional conflict within the establishment which began at a specific point with a provocative speech and spread to other parts of the country. Another group considered it a clear sign of the “beginning” of the end and the collapse of the country’s political system. A third group said that the January 2017 unrests were the fruits of the efforts of foreign enemy agents, while some others said these events were the result of mismanagement and malfunction in the ruling party, spreading corruption and aristocracy as well as the wrong policies of a government that does not care about the people’s demands.”

“There is some truth in all these analyses, but I believe we can put emphasis on two essential issues as the root causes. First, these were not the first nor the last of protests. What happened in January 2017 was as a result of mounting public discontent which in turn was the rational and inevitable outcome of neoliberal, rent-seeking economic and social policies of previous governments which have continued in the 11th and 12th governments,” said the professor.

He added: “Second, the absence of a coherent and clear policy to unify the dialogue and basic interactions in governance at its highest level has fanned the flames of a vicious circle which led to the protests. The same incoherence can be seen in the mismanagement of daily life, seeking the compulsory channeling of the establishment’s mid-term and long-term goals into social and economic fields. There has always been a constant and firm tendency in Iran to implement neo-liberal and rent-based economic policies at any cost to the political system, even if it seems irrational. Such tendency has led to the intensification of protests across the country. It is clear that domestic and foreign provocative moves are also effective to this end but should not be considered as the main cause of the protests.”

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Commenting on the protestors’ base and their demands in 2017, the university professor said: “Like most movements on today’s global scene, these protests were also formed by the coming together of the middle-classes who faced the threat of falling into the lower classes, and the lower classes joining the intellectual protesting groups including the youth, university students and the educated who are not willing to accept the political pressures or tastes of others imposed on them. This is a characteristic which can also be seen in the French Yellow Vests protests. Regardless of the cultural and social differences between developed and developing countries, as well as the differences they have in terms of their institutions and institutionalized democracies [in a developed country] versus the few concessions in the third-world that are constantly under threat, the nature of protests are the same everywhere. Therefore, since classic solutions are no longer the answer to the demands of the people, they restore to direct protesting.”

Referring to the weak and strong points of the behavior of security and law enforcement forces with the protestors, Fakouhi said: “Their behaviors were more flexible and less violent as compared to previous years and this is a good omen. No power is accepting of protest movements acting freely especially when they are accompanied by the slightest violence. In cases like this, when fewer people are harmed or arrested and the detainees are released as soon as possible, there is hope that protests are becoming acceptable in society and are no longer considered a threat to social peace or an effort to overthrow the system. This is why the establishment acted with more patience in January 2017 and I hope this patience will continue to recognize protests as a democratic right which can be demonstrated freely.”

Asked about the possibility of more protests erupting as a result of economic pressures under the sanctions, the social affairs analyst said: “It depends on the policies of the authorities on national and international levels. At the national level, we will undoubtedly have no more reoccurrence of the protests if the authorities put an end to neo-liberal and rent-based policies, pay due attention to the people’s demands and stop their vain efforts to impose a specific lifestyle on society. Meanwhile, at the international level, the more unified and coherent the dialogue and interaction among officials at all levels of the establishment, and the more committed Iran remains to its international obligations and considers the moves made by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia as an anti-pattern, the fewer excuses it will be giving to its enemies to damage the country.”

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He also added: “The said two policies, that is accepting responsibility for domestic affairs by paying attention to people’s material and spiritual demands, and avoiding neo-liberal, anti-public policies and disunity in foreign policy and respect for international rules and norms can protect Iran from the threat of tensions and foreign enemies. Iran has to adopt the favorite demands of its people, e.g. a rich country in which national incomes are distributed on a fair basis without corruption; a country which enjoys social freedoms including freedom of thought and speech and freedom of lifestyle within the framework of social norms. It needs to remain completely committed to its international obligations and avoid chanting slogans and using violent and exaggerated words against others.”

Asked if possible protests have the potential to lead to a regime change in the future, Fakouhi said: “Protest movements usually do not have the potential to change a political system but this is a paranoia of the political powers which leads to their friability and consequently to their collapse. In some cases, a lack of proper knowledge about international relations and miscalculating their imaginary weaknesses against one’s own imaginary powers will lead to the fall of some even strong powers in a short period of time. Therefore, the system should, without the fear of overthrow, give protesters the chance to express themselves legally and in an organized and legitimate way. In that case, there is no need to fear an overthrow.”

He added: “Systems born of tensions like revolutions or major social movements always fear that any kind of protests will lead to their collapse. This is not true; what really leads to a collapse is the absence of rationalism in managing the protests and a lack of due attention given to the impact of major vicious circles created by violence. In such cases, the discords and weaknesses existing in a system on the one hand, and outside pressures exerted by enemies on the other hand, will endanger the existence of that system. Thus, social protests are only a warning instead of a threat against the system, showing it examples of existing problems which need to be solved.”

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